NBA goes up in smoke in Mexico

December 6, 2013

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

I was to photograph an extraordinary basketball game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs as part of the NBA Global Games schedule for the 2013-14 season.

The day before, the players met with children from the indigenous Triquis tribe and played a game barefoot in the tradition of the young Triquis’ team. It was a fantastic moment and I have no doubt that the journalists and everyone present, enjoyed it as much as the young Triqui players. It was a delightful opening to a grand game to be played the next day.

On game day everything looked perfect. A temporary court had been set up; benches, bleachers, baskets and scoreboards were in place. A press room for 200 accredited journalists had been prepared with high quality wi-fi and hundreds of ethernet terminals. There was a plan with our designated positions courtside and in the bleachers marked with stickers pinned to the floor. There were chairs and tables exclusively for the press, plenty of printed information on the players and the teams, signalized access to all points, antennas, remote cameras and cables, cables and more cables. Everything was impeccably set up for us to enjoy the occasion, an event worth millions, where people had paid between 160 to 5600 Pesos ($12 to $430) to watch elite players compete or at least catch a glimpse of the beautiful cheerleaders jump and fly through the air.

It was 7.20pm, the public had not entered the compound yet but I was already standing courtside. I got my position through an NBA draw and it couldn’t have been better. My spot was next to the bench of the Minnesota Timberwolves and at a 45 degree angle from the basket.

We were all waiting when we suddenly heard a noise, like something heavy was falling and the lights started to go off. A colleague and I saw smoke coming through one of the tunnels leading to the court and we started taking pictures.

Local security personnel were walking towards us to stop us from photographing but more and more colleagues were shooting the emerging smoke and the people wandering around and we managed to get away. The smoke filled the compound quickly with a burning smell. Security started evacuating everybody from the building amid screams of “Bring ventilators” and ”You can’t be here, stop taking pictures.” But we tried to continue shooting. As we did, we were taken outside through another tunnel towards a parking lot.

Suddenly a woman from the NBA crew shouted and pounced on me. She was holding her red high-heels in one hand and I instinctively covered my face and asked her to calm down. I didn’t understand what was going on. She was furious and in front of my watchful colleagues she said “I have been talking to you for quite a while now and you are not listening, what a complete lack of respect.” Without hesitation she grabbed my accreditation hanging around my neck and started pulling it forcefully with one hand – she was still holding her high-heels in the other. I held onto it and asked her what she was doing? I apologized for whatever it was I had done but demanded an explanation as to why she was taking my accreditation. She got even madder and screamed at me, “I had to take off my shoes so I could run after you. I’m the authority here and the one who decides who gets to keep an accreditation and who does not. If you don’t listen to me I will have you kicked out.” She immediately ordered one of the security guards to accompany me out. But the guard just looked at me with complicity and walked away. I thought her attitude was rather strange, especially as everybody else from the NBA crew seemed to be mostly worried about the well-being of the players, what would happen to the game, their own security and what would be the official explanation to the public. The only ones who were pushing, screaming, covering camera lenses and confiscating the photographs and videos were the local security guards of the Arena Ciudad de Mexico.

I started to worry that I wouldn’t get access to the game. I spoke to a woman in charge of the press for NBA Latin America and she told me not to worry after listening to me patiently. Staff members started to haul luggage from the inside of the compound and among more obstructions, pushes and screams from the security guards we managed to take some photographs of a few players boarding a bus. Some members of the NBA organization were wearing masks and when the guards saw us taking pictures of them, they got even more infuriated.

Another brawl broke out. A journalist from an important local media organization and a security guard exchanged punches to the face. Again I saw the young woman who had been following me with her shoes in her hands; she was moving her hands vehemently, luckily her shoes were on her feet this time, and screaming next to the fighting men. I quickly decided to move very far away from her, my only interest after all was to get to cover the game. But a few minutes later we were informed that the game had been cancelled.

The rest of the players, men of “Ut mens sana sit in corpore sano” (A healthy mind in a healthy body) walked at the slow pace of giants with absolute calm to the waiting buses. The waiters were also leaving, and once the players had left, it was time for me to leave as well. The coverage was over and I didn’t wish to be there for another moment.

There was no light outside and while a man was arguing with a Reuters’ cameraman, a driver almost drove his car into a group of police officers while desperately trying to get through a closed exit as another driver took an unfortunate turn in his car, almost hitting a group of photographers sitting on the sidewalk as they were filing pictures to their editors. They were jokingly deciding which was the most memorable anecdote of the evening. After some palaver, the woman with the shoes in her hands persecuting me, beat them all.

Yesterday, I received a text message from somebody from the NBA that read: “En el nombre de NBA me disculpo por el problema de ayer a la hora de tomar fotografías mi amigo, de NBA Mexico” (“In the name of NBA I apologize for the problems caused while you were taking photographs my friend, from NBA Mexico”).

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