When the Los Angeles Lakers play at Staples Center, the fastest trigger in the building can be found beneath the basket opposite the Lakers bench. That's where Andrew Bernstein, the NBA's senior director of photography, keeps nightly vigil: a Nikon D3 around his neck, a remote at the ready to activate the dozen strobe-activated cameras he employs in the rafters.
Covering the team since their days at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, the 52-year-old Bernstein is as much a part of the purple-and-gold fabric as the Laker Girls. His work defines the franchise's image on the court: Magic Johnson battles Larry Bird for a rebound, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky-hooks, Shaq dunks.
Now, as the Lakers seek their third consecutive NBA title, Bernstein and Coach Phil Jackson have co-authored "Journey to the Ring," published by Time Capsule Press. The book offers a behind-the-scenes look into the 2009-10 season, from the first day of training camp in September to the dreary road trips of February to the victory parade in June.
Bernstein, who works for the league and for Staples Center, captures Kobe Bryant in silent contemplation before a game, his feet soaking in ice water and his broken finger in a cup of ice. Jackson dons an apron to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. Derek Fisher weeps after sinking the key basket in Game 3 of the finals. Pau Gasol exults outside St. Vincent's Church on Figueroa.
The images in "Journey" are in black-and-white, a radical change for a photographer whose job is to "record the greatest athletes in the world in color," says Bernstein, a graduate of Art Center College of Design. "I wanted to get back to my roots. I learned from my documentary teacher, Jim Caccavo, that black-and-white is the purest form of telling a story. It becomes more about the subject matter and the emotional relationship between the viewer and the photographer than about how the colors work together."
Jackson wrote the introduction and every caption. At his urging, Bernstein peppered the book with action pictures, including Fisher's miraculous shot against the Boston Celtics and Ron Artest's last-second put-back that stunned the Phoenix Suns. (The action photos were the only ones that Bernstein shot originally in color and then converted digitally to black-and-white.) "This was a true collaboration," Bernstein says. "There wasn't a photo of [forward] Josh Powell in the first edit, but Phil was clear that we had to add one. He's all about the process and the team."
In 1970, back when he was a forward known as "Action Jackson" with the New York Knicks, Jackson collaborated on a book with Madison Square Garden lens-man George Kalinsky ("Take It All!"). "Basketball is an ideal sport for photography," he says, "because it's played on a stage, well-lit, and the photographers are right there with the action. With this book, Andy's artistry carries the day."
He credits Bernstein with knowing when not to shoot. "Andy is respectful of the game," Jackson says. "When I gave him that look, he disappeared from the locker room. There's time for public and there's time for privacy."