This World Cup—my second—was one of great learning opportunities, class, and respect for the game and its legends. 32 national teams competed for medals in eight cities throughout China in 2019. I documented the action from Nanjing, Shanghai, and Beijing.
I’ve been teaming up with FIBA since my friend Kevin Couliau introduced me to the 3X3 crew back in ~2011. Needless to say, I was excited when FIBA asked me to help them tell the story of their 2019 Basketball World Cup.
This being my first trip to Asia, I was especially excited to learn about Chinese culture and explore the cities I was assigned to as much as I could in between games.
It took me a few days to get over my jetlag and adjust to the 12-hour time difference after landing in Nanjing. My first task was to set up and shoot headshots for the four teams competing there for the first round games: Montenegro, New Zealand, Brazil, and Greece.
The most anticipated game of the first round in Nanjing was Greece vs Brazil. Brazil overcame a double-digit deficit to win in the end, but how they nearly lost in the final seconds presented one of those moments that transcends the game. One of Brazil’s bright young players, Didi Louzada committed an ill-advised foul about 60+ feet away from the basket with just a few seconds remaining in the game that gave Greece an opportunity to tie the game. Greece missed a freethrow and fell short.
What was beautiful about this wild conclusion to the game is that Louzada was devastated—understandably—and tried to run off the court immediately following the game, skipping the team celebration of the big win. Veterans Alex Garcia and Leandro Barbosa—who have competed in five World Cups for Brazil together—called him back on the court to console him. They then thrust him in the middle of the team huddle and cheered for him jubilantly. This moment was incredibly moving for me to witness and capture. It speaks volumes to the culture of the team and was a major learning opportunity for Louzada and the team.
With my day off in Nanjing I decided to tour the third largest city in China (fun fact: over 30 million people live in the greater metropolitan Nanjing area—That’s almost 4 times the size of my hometown of NYC). Naturally I landed at a park and before long I heard that all-too-familiar sound of pick-up games taking place. I snapped a few pics before I called for next through gestures. We played halfcourt games of 4-on-4 to five points. Although we could not communicate verbally, it was clear that basketball is a universal language. I picked up on the house rules pretty quickly and the guys were competitive yet welcoming. It was an experience I will never forget. The guys were very welcoming to me and my friend William who joined me for this adventure. In case you’re wondering, after a slow start we ended on a 3-game win streak before leaving the park.
It was especially great to see Frank Ntilikina, who I worked with at the Knicks last season, representing France as they came to Nanjing for the second round. The smile on his face when he received his first bronze medal was priceless. It feels great to see people I get work with and be around thriving.
Stephon Marbury, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming all attended at least some games throughout the tournament. It was moving to witness the love they all received not only from the fans but also from the players and coaches, some of them former teammates or opponents.
One of the most amazing moments was following the semi-final matchup between France and Argentina. Immediately following his 28 points and 13 rebounds and securing the victory and, ultimately, the silver medal, 39-year-old Luis Scola ran over to the stands and awaited his family to come down to give them all hugs and kisses. Knowing your “why” is so important and family is as good as it gets. I had goosebumps as I clicked the shutter for this moment.
The tournament in general was very emotional. From Puerto Rico battling Iran to the final second on the opening night (I wasn’t there for that one, but I did see it live on tv) to Turkey coming within a few free throws of stealing one away from team USA (also saw this one on tv) to France defeating Lithuania in a thriller all the way to Argentina meeting Spain in the title game. Fans from different countries traveled across the globe to support their national teams. Lithuania had a particularly energetic crowd as did Argentina, Spain, Greece, Poland, and of course the host country, China. Security guards in Nanjing would huddle around the television near the entrance tot he arena and you could hear the echoes of their cheers for China throughout the halls. The passion for the game was palpable throughout.
Finally after Spain was crowned the world champions and the all tournament team was introduced, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol of Spain, both all-stars, put their hardware aside to applaud the legend Luis Scola whose overall performance in this World Cup was nothing short of extraordinary. It was a class act and a genuine display of mutual respect at the highest level.
I learned a ton in China. I pushed my memory cards, hard drives, cameras, and computer to their limits. I shared the sidelines with some of the greatest basketball photographers on earth and I did not take a single moment of it all for granted. It still amazes me that a basketball and a camera have provided me with opportunities of a lifetime to see the world and document its biggest stars.
I hope you enjoy these images. I brought my 35mm film camera with me which I used to photograph my touristic adventures. I’ll share some of those in a future post once I have the film developed and the scans ready. Thanks for reading to the end!