Photographers have been capturing sports moments since…well, since it’s been possible to do so. As time has gone on and photography technology has gotten better, sports photos have become more detailed and specific, defining moments for generations. Some of the No Coast Bias team breaks down their favorite sports photos, and explains what they mean to them.
This is my favorite sports photo of all time. It’s Bob Beamon, in mid-air at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics shattering the world long jump record by almost two feet. The picture is perfect. It’s a snapshot image of human nitroglycerin, exploding the very notion of what we are capable of. You can see it in the height, the raw, volcanic eruption of athleticism; in the “holy shit” look that’s on Beamon’s own face. Rarely do we get an image of someone peaking before our very eyes. In one snap of a camera, the photographer was able to nearly encapsulate everything I love about sports and, in particular, Olympic Track and Field, that most sublimely simple of athletic endeavors: whoever runs fastest, jumps furthest, wins.
If I had to describe Allen Iverson with just one picture, this would be the one. Look at it in all its glory. It’s everything about AI plus more. There’s not one other player in the history of the NBA who would have their mom… no, even think about having their mom sit behind them during a game and braid their hair. AI was a different breed. He kept it 8 more than 92 all the time. 100. He did what he wanted on and off the court, literally. If someone tried guarding AI one-one-one, they’d end up looking like Bambi trying to walk for the first time while he drove in for the easy layup. Off the court he wore whatever he wanted because he liked it. If he felt like getting his hair braided during the game he did it. AI changed the game during his Hall of Fame career. And we should all be grateful for it.
You pick up the phone.
“This is Shaq Diesel, get to the arena. Now.”
He hangs up before you can speak. It doesn’t seem like you have a choice. You’ve got to go.
On the drive you begin to wonder. Why does the Big Aristotle need me? You put on athletic clothes just in case. But it seems silly this dominant big man would want to play with a person like you. Perhaps he just wants some schmuck to obliterate while working on post moves.
But then you get defiant.
“I’m pretty good, I shouldn’t just be used as a dummy,” you begin to think.
Superman has challenged you to one-on-one. You’re getting beat up at first but you won’t give up. The tide begins to turn. The Big Shaqtus can’t handle your speed. It’s your ball, down 10-9. You shoot from beyond the arc, for the win, over the outstretched arms of The Big Daddy.
You snap out of your daydream. Your imagination gave you highway hypnosis so bad you arrived and parked several minutes before without even realizing it. Feeling sure of yourself now, ready for a showdown, you open the door to the arena.
Expecting the sound of a bouncing ball or squeaking shoes, you’re confused at the silence. No one’s even here. Dismayed, you keep walking towards the court. Wait, there is something here, over by half court.
You look at the mass of muscle and smiles on the floor. It’s laying, posing, even, on the hardwood. A basketball is cradled in one massive arm, the other flexed to show its full power. This is the Zeus of Basketball spread out before you. You’re frozen. You’ve been emotionally disarmed. You try to react but you can’t even get that far.
You’ve already fainted.
I don’t know who this man is.
I’ve never met him, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t know what his story is. I don’t know where he’s from, where he lives now, if he has a family, where he bought that Captain America hoodie from. I know next to nothing about him.
But in this one shot, I kind of feel like I do.
The United States Men’s Soccer team had just lost to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was heartbreaking, but it was beautiful. It marked a moment of sadness, but also a string of achievements. The USMNT had made it out of the group stage, which many American fans had called the “Group of Death”, by surviving a slugfest with Ghana, taking Portugal to the wire only to have victory snatched away at the last moment by a hobbled but still somehow perfect Christiano Ronaldo, and taking on the eventual world champions, finally succumbing to a 1-0 defeat on a rain-soaked pitch Recife, Brazil.
And finally, once it was over, the United States would play the Belgians; a very talented team that should have outclassed them from the opening whistle. I wonder how this man reacted as Tim Howard slid and dove and punched his way into World Cup soccer lore, as if someone had neglected to tell him that the United States weren’t suppose to hang around in this game. I wonder if he felt a knot getting tighter in his chest as the game wore on, locked up at 0-0. I wonder if he yelled profanities when Chris Wondoloski missed high on a point blank opportunity that almost certainly would’ve put the U.S. through to the next round (to this day I still can’t see a replay of that shot without cursing out loud on impulse).
I wonder how long he sat there when it was over; when Tim Howard finally broke despite a sudden breath of life from an 18 year-old USA/German dual-citizen. Clearly it was longer than any of those around him. I wonder how he felt when the USA’s journey through Brazil was over. I wonder if he thought about his job and family and home he’d have to go back to now that the dream of bringing a World Cup trophy to the United States had been delayed yet again. I wonder if maybe he’s still sitting there, hands clasped together at his pursed lips, lost in thoughts of the glories of what had been so tantalizingly close.
In that stadium he was just a man. A man in a silly, expressive outfit who would cheer and yell and agonize over his country. But in this photo he became immortalized as all of us in that one final moment when the dream, at least for the time being, was over.