Regular basketball watchers are familiar with the sight of players leaping off the court in an attempt to save an errant pass or loose ball. If this happens along the sideline, it sometimes results in a player crashing into spectators; if it happens along the baseline underneath the basket, it can mean the player gets up close and personal with the photographers and camerapeople bringing images of the game to editors, readers and viewers at home.
[Photos: Classic Dream Team images]
We see this sort of thing pretty regularly; we rarely hear about it from the photographer's perspective. That's why the crash that took place during the second quarter of Tuesday's preliminary-round men's basketball matchup between Spain and Australia is a little bit different.
After Australia's Joe Ingles missed a lefty layup in the lane with 23 seconds left in the first half and teammate David Andersen couldn't convert on the rebound, Spain point guard Jose Calderon grabbed the loose ball, looked up the floor for a fast-break opportunity and saw teammate Rudy Fernandez streaking down the left wing. But Calderon sailed his lead pass a bit, and Fernandez didn't catch up with it until he was about a stride from going out of bounds.
Fernandez tried to save the ball, but his momentum took him out of bounds, where he stepped on a triangular cardboard divider between the court and the media pit, and fell backward into a photographer. He was clearly hurt, appearing to strike his head on the back of a camera as he fell. He laid on the ground for a spell before being collected by Spain's trainers and brought back to the locker room for observation.
He'd later return, scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds in the third quarter of Spain's 82-70 win, which was good news for Spanish fans and helped mute cries from justifiably concerned observers to move the cameras back. (Which, as colleague Kelly Dwyer wrote at NBA blog Ball Don't Lie following a similar situation last summer, won't happen.)
We'd chalked it all up to an odd moment that, thankfully, didn't amount to much, and put it behind us ... until Wednesday, when Reuters' Mike Segar, the photographer into whom Fernandez crashed, wrote a first-person account of sitting stunned on the baseline with a bleeding Olympian in his lap.
In his post, Segar — a veteran photojournalist whose recent assignments have included the International AIDS Conference, Occupy Wall Street's May Day protests in New York and the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder — offers an interesting perspective on how quickly a journalist charged with documenting a moment can become part of it himself:
[Fernandez] suddenly sprinted at full speed from the far end of the court for a loose ball. "Uh-oh," I thought, "here he comes." Colleagues were on either side of me and Fernandez was not slowing down. He just kept coming, diving for the ball and crashing directly into me at full speed. BANG! Eyes closed, hands up, it was a blur of arms and legs and a loud thump as we slammed backwards. All I could think of was that I was going to slam into the hard metal and wood bench behind me as I braced for impact.
As the smoke cleared and I looked up, Fernandez was basically lying in my lap head down eyes closed. He rolled forward slightly, moved his hands to his head, moaned loudly and stopped moving. He was in my lap, clearly injured on his head. I could see blood on his fingers on top of his head and apparently he was now unconscious for a few seconds, or nearly so. At this point I was not a photographer. I suppose I just kind of instinctively rubbed his arm and shoulder, kept my hands on his back and held him a bit and said "stay still, stay still man… You're all right." I didn't actually know if he WAS all right at all, but all I could do was to try to comfort him for the 20 or 30 seconds it took the Spain trainers, players and staff to rush to his aid. Anyone would do the same for anyone else injured in their lap, right?
Well, not necessarily — I'm sure there are some photographers who would've seen a great shot in the making, shoved the bloodied and near-unconscious player aside and lunged for a camera, especially after realizing, as Segar did, that he himself "was not really hurt." (Segar does note that he did briefly consider trying to find the wide-angle lens that'd been displaced in the collision, "but with Fernandez lying bleeding on my feet and me the only one trying to help a bit, that wasn't going to happen.")
But Segar should be glad he didn't. Even if you take a dimmer view of the underpinnings of the Olympics as an enterprise (as in "business") and think that words like "Olympism" are inherently puffed-up and overstuffed, the basic values at the core of the term and the games after which it's named — excellence, respect and friendship, according to Olympic.org, as well as "the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles," according to the Olympic Charter — are the kind of thing that anyone can get behind, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue that choosing to comfort and care for someone who is injured rather than rush back to work, even briefly, doesn't tick off most (if not all) of those boxes.
Simply by being decent, Segar lived up to the creed; in that moment, he could call himself an Olympian, too.
"When my friends and colleagues [...] all showed me their pictures of me holding the player as he was down, it was clear that my role as a journalist had, for that moment, ended innocently and out of my control," Segar writes. "I was at least shown in a compassionate moment — that I can live with."
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- Rudy Fernandez