Army – Navy Basketball (Doubleheader). West Point, NY 22•Jan.•11

A large American flag is unfurled behind the cadet color guard during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the Army – Navy men’s basketball game in Christl Arena at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY on Saturday, January 22, 2011. Several members of the American hostages who were held captive in Iran for 444 days in 1981 were also in attendance behind the flag. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record
For the second time in the last six weeks or so I’d drawn the assignment last Saturday to cover two games in another Army – Navy sports rivalry. This time it’d be in Christl Arena, a fair sized Division I basketball venue at the United States Military Academy down at West Point. To say I was just as determined to work these games with a similar mindset that I do when in an NFL stadium the last four years for the football version between these two service academies is probably putting it lightly. Same mental preparation for the long hours in the arena, continually going over imaginary packing lists of all the gear I’d need to bring along, ensuring that all the gear works as planned and just as importantly, be able to move my images back to the paper on deadline. Obviously I’m very familiar with the logistics of the arena, so the basics of the all-day assignment shouldn’t pose any major unforeseen challenges or distractions. Oh, one more thing: I wanted to install strobes in the arena, as well as a remote camera on the backboard stanchion, and possibly a second remote camera in the stands aimed back at this same basket. I guess there is nothing more intense than challenging yourself with all these possibilities, even days before packing the gear and begin loading the car at 9AM. The need to strobe this particular arena is mandatory (for me) because as I’ve learned the last four years, the available light isn’t quite as good for me working with the older work cameras at high ISO’s, so the only alternative is to “light ’em up…” In other words, for all this pre-game installation and post-game break down time, I guess it adds another 5 hours to the workday, which I knew would’ve been long to begin with.

There’s something that sort of really hits home for me in now recounting all the details of accomplishing Saturday’s assignment: Preparation. Pure and simple. That’s the underlying factor that kept me awake nights, easily allowed for my meticulous testing & packing of all the gear – the radio transmitters had to fire the remote(s) and strobes consistently before I left the house, and I had to know instinctively where every single item was that I’d packed, including things like channel locking pliers, four safety cables with those little pesky luggage key locks, black cine – foil, enough camera & radio transmitter cords to fire the cameras & strobes, and plenty of AA batteries in case I had to begin replacing batteries in all the Pocket-Wizard remote units. Oh yea, and gum. When I pulled up to the arena, the Naval Academy bus cruised to a halt near the main entrance just in front of me. (below). I grabbed a “short” camera in the trunk – the Canon 5D-MKII with a 16mm – 35mm zoom attached, and with the car still running and the trunk open, I stepped in position to make a few frames of the Navy players exiting their bus. When I said my customary, “Hey coach, good luck today” to Navy head coach Billy Lange as he stepped off the bus, and he replied “Thanks my friend…” I secretly breathed a big sigh of relief in knowing it was going to be a good day for making images. It was 5 minutes before 10AM…

“Go Early…”
9:55AM. The U. S. Naval Academy team bus arrives outside Christl Arena at the United States Military Academy prior to their game against Army in West Point, NY on Saturday, January 22, 2011. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

For the type of workday that lay ahead for me, I knew that an image like this wouldn’t have a big role in the bigger scheme of things as far as game coverage went, but it was a way for me at least to sort officially begin documenting my day. Once I got the three Dyna-Lite monolight strobes (one flash head didn’t make the assignment due to a blown fuse) securely mounted in the stands, with the help of a freelance colleague who showed up just to “help out”, we made a few test images of both teams going through their morning walk-throughs and drills. Now it was time to get down to the nuts and bolts of installing the remote cameras – one on the backboard stanchion, and possibly one up in the stands, aimed back at the same basket. It’s a technique I really like because if all goes well, and I utilize one of the main cameras in my hands from the floor position, I can potentially have a nice play at the mouth of the basket from three different camera angles, on the arena strobes no less. (I am still working on that technique to sort of get the bugs out to get three cameras to fire simultaneously on the same target.) As I’d mentioned, a freelance colleague John Meore come to the arena to help out a bit, even suggesting that I mount my main remote in an even lower position than I was accustomed to, and another freelancer, Danny Wild passed me his Canon fisheye lens during the second playing of the National Anthem so I could make the overall view of the arena before the men’s game (top image.) It was with their unsolicited help that I was able to make some of the images seen below in the slideshow. Thanks again guys! ~cg.
“Go early. Stay late. Get the uniform dirty…”
Here’s the slideshow of my take on the two games:

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