As I mentioned in my previous post, I am down in Caracas, Venezuela creating my shots from the sidelines of the FIBA Americas Championship qualifier for the 2014 World Cup in Spain. The World Cup will offer bids to the 2016 Olympics.
Fresh off of an awesome summer of shooting streetball in NYC, it felt good to get back in the gym and shoot some of the greatest players in the world all fighting for the chance to represent their respective countries in the Olympics.
With a few camera bodies, some remote triggers, magic arms, and various accessories I have some great tools to help me create some interesting images. The good people of FIBA have granted me all-access to the venue and I've been trying all kinds of angles to cover the action.
The energy in the arena is absolutely electric, even when the crowd is not at capacity. It is immediately evident that the players and coaches want to win. Every game feels like an NBA game seven type of atmosphere.
There is also a lot of parody among the nations represented. So far Jamaica has upset two powerhouse national select teams in Brazil and Argentina. After their premiere big man, Samardo Samuels (former NBA player), signed a deal with a professional team in Italy, Jamaica was forced to take on the formidable Argentina without him and they still found the will to pull out the victory.
The rivalry between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was on full display as the two nations faced off on Friday night (6 September). There were 11 ties and 13 lead changes in the game. Carlos Arroyo lead all scorers with 22 points for Puerto Rico in the losing effort. Fueled in part by their fans playing live music in the stands, the Dominican Republic pulled away in the end to beat Puerto Rico 99-84.
Being the host team, Venezuela has a major advantage since their fans are here. They have a squad of very tough, hard-nosed players who leave their full effort on the floor every time out.
The support that Venezuela gets from its fans is second to none. A potent sixth man for their national team, the crowd has an immediate impact on every game. The team is talented, but the crowd really helps them to be greater than the sum of their parts.
On Saturday night, the 7th of September, Venezuela took on Puerto Rico fresh off their loss to the Dominican Republic and jumped out to an impressive 31-13 lead in a hurry.
It was impossible to hear the officials's whistles, the shot clock, and the horn in the arena with the crowd's most audible support. As a photographer, that energy transferred right to me. It was an incredible adrenaline rush to be a part of such an amazing game to begin with, but the energy from the crowd was so palpable that it added another level to the entire ambiance.
After leading through nearly four quarters, Venezuela slowly lost its concentration as Puerto Rico gradually chipped away at the lead. J.J. Barea, who won an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, carried Puerto Rico in an incredible run hitting some of the most improbable shots I've ever seen.
On one possession in particular with the shot clock winding down, Barea broke free of a double team by leaning away from them and, while almost parallel to the floor, knocked down a three as the time expired. Simply incredible.
Former New York Knick, Renaldo Balkman helped carry some of the load for Puerto Rico's memorable come-back when he connected on a floater that ultimately forced overtime. Puerto Rico then snatched the game from Venezuela in the extra stanza for a thrilling finish.
Working with the good people of FIBA has been an incredible experience. Not only are the games amazing to witness and, especially, to shoot, but the people are just some of the nicest people I've ever met. In addition to Pat and Ana, who are an absolute pleasure to work with, I've met a bunch of terrific photographers from all across South America ranging from Puerto Rico down to Argentina and just about everywhere in between.
One of the great things about being a photographer is the amazing network of amazing professionals who are willing to go out of their way to help one another. I've learned a ton just by being the presence of so much talent. Juan Martinez of the Associated Press even hooked me up with this great black foam to replace my makeshift gobo (go-between) to help me get rid of reflections from my backboard shots. I can't say enough how thoughtful and welcoming the world of photography is and how much I'm enjoying this experience. I hope my images can tell part of the story.