For the past three summers I have been the staff photographer for Nike Elite Youth Basketball. A special thanks to Kevin Foley & Marc Steigerwalt of Position Sports for keeping me on staff for this! The job includes about 6 weeks of traveling around the country photographing the top high school basketball players in the country. And I mean the best of the best such as…John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Harrison Barnes, Austin Rivers just to name a few… The marquee event is the Lebron James Skills Academy. It’s a combination of skills workouts and games hosted by King James himself. It’s an amazing opportunity for the players because they have the chance to meet the best player in the game (in my opinion). What I love about the event is, James is very candid with the young players and gives them life advice as well as pointers on their game.
My job is to take action photographs and portraits of the players as well as general event coverage. I rely very heavily on Dynalite gear for this job. Specifically 2000Wi packs and bi-tube heads. I set up strobes on the two main courts and have a portrait set up off the court. I would also like to note that this summer I was testing a new pack for Dynalite that has a very-very fast flash duration of 1/24,000th of a second. The importance of this is, the shorter the flash duration, the crisper and sharper your images will be. The current 2000Wi packs have a flash duration of 1/16,000th. I could visibly tell which images were shot with the test packs… they were tack sharp with almost no motion blur.
Back to Lebron…This year things were especially tense because of his whole free agency deal. The camp was literally the same week Lebron was making his announcement. The gym was packed with over 120 media outlets, ESPN was out front going live every 2 hours, helicopters were following Lebron everytime he drove somewhere. It was nuts! The beauty of being the Nike staff photographer is I had total access, I wasn’t bound to the shooting restrictions the press had.
During sessions that were closed to the media I was able to capture some amazing moments that no other photographers had access to. One was a players banquet hosted Lebron. He hangs with the high school guys for dinner then does a Q&A where the players can ask him anything. I feel this is when Lebron is the most genuine. He really accepts his role as mentor and role model and gives the guys’ great advice and insight into life in the NBA and life in the spotlight. Also during a session closed to the media, for the first time ever, Lebron played pick up with the high school players. I was pretty funny to watch the young bucks try and go at Lebron, then get totally embarrassed! During this session, I captured my favorite image of the week…a wide-open dunk by Bron-Bron…His signature dunk. This was just 48 hours before “the announcement” and it just seems like he is so relaxed! The court is his home.
After the dunk Lebron came up to me and said to me with a smile “Did you get that one?” He knew it was a pretty dunk! As did everyone in the gym!