We are interviewing the official photographer for the iconic “1992 NBA Dream Team” and the five USA gold medal-winning teams that followed. Andy Bernstein is now known as the photographer that revolutionized indoor sports photography with the development of the multiple camera Flash Wizard II system. Andy was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 and is now the best-selling co-author/photographer of 5 time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant and his new book release, The Mamba Mentality with Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol.
Video Link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWOmaFisYaY
Buy The Mamba Mentality – How I Play https://www.amazon.com/Mamba-Mentality-How-Play/dp/0374201234/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1545089362&sr=1-1&keywords=the+black+mamba
The First The Longest Tenured NBA Photographer
Podcast: LEGENDS OF SPORT
Andy Bernstein’s Mentors:
On today’s show, we are interviewing the official photographer for the iconic 1992 NBA Dream Team and the five USA gold medal-winning teams that followed Mr Andy Bernstein is now known as the photographer that revolutionized indoor sports photography with the development of the multiple camera flash wizard to system. Andy was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of fame in 2013 and is now the best selling coauthor of slash photographer of five time NBA champion Koby Bryant and his new book release the Mamba Mentality with Phil. Action Jackson and Boop Boop, Pau Gasol.
Sean. All right, thrive nation. Welcome to today’s show. We have the incredible Mr Andy in the house. Andy, how are you?
I’m great. Great to be on the show here with you. Thanks so much for sticking with me and the perseverance. A little busy lately, but I’m glad we’re talking
now. Andy Bernsteiny, you have been a photographer photographing in the NBA for I believe, 35 plus years. How did you get your start?
I can’t remember that far back. Clean up, kidding. I actually picked up the camera when I was 14 and fell in love with it with the whole process, the whole craft of it. Everything in the dark room. Just really excited me seeing the magic happen right before your eyes, you know, and um, I, I went to college at the University of Massachusetts and quickly got to work for the newspaper. There are daily Collegian newspaper, which was a very prestigious college paper and to kind of got my start really doing assignments and understanding what it took to be a news and sports photographer and I’m transferred out to a school in California and continued my training but much more, much deeper into the science of photography. And my start really happened professionally when I became an assistant for sports illustrated while I was at Art Center College of design in Pasadena, California.
This is the late seventies, early eighties. And I learned everything that I needed to know to prepare me to be a professional sports photographer by working for some world class award winning sports photographers who are staff photographers to sports illustrated me. That was the, the Crim, the Crim, you know, of the line. And specifically I learned how to light indoor arenas for basketball and hockey, which illustrated was at the forefront of the technique using giant stroke, big gigantic glass, you that had to be installed the hours and hours before games and then removed after games. But essentially they were these big flashes that supplemented delight that, uh, these arenas said the crappy old available light, the arenas head and you were able to shoot a daylight balance film. And it was beautiful, but nobody knew that technique. Excepted few, a handful of people in the US. And I was luckily I was one of those. So I took that into my professional life and it opened some doors for me with the Lakers and the kings and the NBA, cain calling in 1983. But their all star game. And yeah, the rest of this kind of history. After that, my friend
Andy Bernstein, were you working for free or as an intern or at some really, really low level of pay when you first started out there working with sports sports illustrated.
Oh yeah, we talking. Oh Man, I don’t even think I was making. Yeah, it started off as, as a fourth assistant on these big production shoots that required days to portraits, attempt occurs and then the, uh, the arena photography and the location photography that I did every imaginable sport that you could possibly think of. Of course, football, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis, rugby in water polo and water sports and mill kind of stuff. Um, so I learned the ropes that way, but you know, you were still a lowly assistant then the rates were what they were back in those days. I don’t think I made more than maybe 100 bucks, 150 bucks a day as an assistant back in the day. Um, but it was great trading, you know, maybe they were actually paying me to be trained and it all came to fruition when I hung my shingle out and became a sports photographer myself.
You know, we, we’ve interviewed Michael Levine, the, a former PR consultant for President Bush’s and the Clinton’s and prince and Nike and then Lee Cockerell who used to manage Walt Disney world resorts and all these people who are the best in the world at what they do. Just like you. In that story. We hear over and over again as you guys went in, they’re willing to work for free or for as little as possible to learn and master a skill early on in your career. What advice would you have for somebody out there that’s needing to improve their skill, but it’s up to this point, been unwilling to work for quote unquote below market rate.
That’s just my perception, but maybe in every profession it’s always a great idea to find somebody or a group of people, but specifically somebody that you can latch onto that you really respected as buyer their work and their work ethic. And and how they conduct themselves and, and the results, the success they’ve had and if you want to emulate, emulate that, there’s no better place to do that then from the source. And if that takes interning or working for three good, for little pay for awhile, there’s no better training than being on the inside with somebody in the industry. You really want to be it. And I did that, you know, um, I don’t know if you did that, but so many people I know it is and I’ve tried to get that across to my kids when they were growing up as teenagers. Now they’re adults that sometimes you have to just try to suck it up and not make it all about money all the time.
They get about your future and people respect that. They respect that. You respect them and respect what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. You know, I’ve been in business over 40 years and there’s still people in my life that I look up to and I seek advice from and are mentors to me. Two of them were my teachers from college 40 years ago. Peter Guber is becoming an incredible mentor resource for me. Um, you know, Peter’s kind of a busy guy, you know, he owns the warriors, the Ucla lasc soccer team. He’s the head of a giant film studio, but yet he finds the time to talk to me because I value him and value his business acumen and his experience and I think he respects that.
And I want to tap into, to the, your, your wisdom about this because I’m a huge Phil Jackson Fan, but he listens to the show regularly knows. I’m always quoting 11 rings. You know his book. I love the career of Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson has been known as by media, sort of like the wizard of basketball and there are countless photographers, people that want to be photographers, but for whatever reason he has allowed you into his Dojo of Mojo. The wizard of basketball has allowed you into his zen locker room when most other photographers aren’t allowed. I think. I think you were actually allowed into the locker room during all 11 championships. Am I correct?
That is correct, sir. Yes.
Why? Why does he like you so much? And why do you mean not that he doesn’t like anybody else, but he likes you the most?
Well, it’s a five letter word and it’s called trust and that trust us to be built incrementally, but it all comes from integrity and presenting yourself, your true genuine self to the person because as we know, first impressions mean everything. And if I was a arrogant or aggressive or made it all about me from the first moment I met bill, which was before the. He won his first championship with the Bulls during that season. Um, I don’t think he would’ve let me in that first locker room, much less the 10 after that. Um, so we, we hit it off. He, he saw me, I think a guy who really enjoyed what he did and just like he did, um, it was a real meeting of the minds. She’s a big photography bucks by the way.
People don’t really know.
Um, yeah, he needs to know so much about so many things. But photography was the one thing I didn’t realize he was into and he really was. Um, and he, uh, he and I just formed a bond and he knew I had a job to do. He knew I was there to make him or the team look bad. I’m there working for the league itself and then of course for the Lakers when they, when he came to La and that was the team photographer and still am. But it’s all about trust and like in any other profession or relationship, interpersonal or marriage or whatever, you don’t have trust and integrity. Um, you’re really coming from behind, you know, you really have to. It’s sometimes very difficult to build that, um, when you start, you know, behind the eight ball. So I think that’s kind of the long answer to your question.
I hope that makes sense.
What is, what was Phil Jackson’s demeanor like as a coach and how is it different from that of most other coaches?
Well, he had a, he had a different vibe. I mean, he, um, came from a working class background. He worked his way up into the NBA. Uh, didn’t have a lot of skills. I mean, he’d be the first one to tell you that he didn’t have a lot of basketball skills, but somehow he found a niche as sort of the guy who would die for any ball or pull down any rebound, hard worker. Um, and, you know, living in New York at the time when he was playing there in the early seventies, um, he was exposed to in incredible counterculture as well as uh, uh, you know, just an amazing group of people that he hung out with and, you know, coming from where he did, where he grew up, um, you know, North Dakota and, and the background that he had, um, you know, it’s just a very deep person.
So he’s not a one dimensional or two dimensional sports type person. And Phil and I have had many conversations that don’t even get into talking about basketball at all. You know, I went to him when I first started having kids trying to figure out how to do that. He’s got children, he’s got grandchildren, you know, we would talk politics, we would talk about all kinds of stuff you’ve given me books to read. So this is a guy who I really admired and looked up to know, not just as a basketball coach, of course I did, but, but as a person and as a, as a resource,
Andy Bernstein, Shaquille O’Neal. Uh, there’s many times during his career with the Lakers, he would dive into the crowd to try to save a loose ball or maybe just to fall on photographers like to you. How many times did he accidentally a kick you in the crotch fall on you lay on your half suffocate. You break a camera. Talk to me about Shaquille o’neal falling on you. How often did that happen?
Well, one of the hazards of our job, unfortunately, we sit so close to the players, I mean were within inches. Literally events. I’m on the baseline and the guy like Jack who was incredibly nimble. I mean people don’t realize this guy was $340 a month now, but he, he had incredible body control, usually had two or three guys draped all over him when he was trying to go up for a dunk. And he always was able to kind of save himself when he was little bit out of control or whatever. But there were three times that I can remember that he laid me out. I’m the most profound time was the third time, I think it was the 2000 western conference finals and a man, he took me out. He just kind of lost his balance. I think somebody system in the air right into me. And then he just, we were face to face. I was like a pancake, like Wiley Coyote cartoon, you know, it’s like the black, they got lenses and cameras embedded in me and it’s about two inches away, his face from my face. And he looks at me and I’m wheezing. I can’t catch my breath. He goes, Oh man, is that you? And I’m like, yeah, that’s how you met. And he looks me straight in the eye goes because give it a couple of seconds where I national TV, I’ll never forget and I’ll never let him forget it either because they had a cart we added there.
Oh Man. Okay. So Shaquille o’neal is almost killed you. Uh, you also photograph Magic Johnson who was also a very graceful guy there, I mean, unbelievable charisma on the court. Great floor, general, graceful. What was his demeanor like? What was your relationship like? Photographic magic. Johnson.
Well, magic and I basically came in
time in the second season, but I was around him in his rookie season. I’m the most animated, wonderful, friendly, um, person that I ever really encountered as an athlete in any sport. I mean, but he was, he was ferocious on the court. He was a winner. He was competitive, um, and he brought that lunch pail every single game, every single practice because his worth work ethic was drilled into him by his father who wasn’t held two jobs back in Lansing, Michigan and urban grew up watching his dad go to work every morning at 4:00 in the morning and working 16 hours a day every single day. And that work ethic was instilled in him and stayed with him even when he became a multiple champion. And, and it’s still the same work ethic in business and of course now is president of the Lakers. So, um, what is the most amazing people I’ve ever met was he’s had to deal with in life and what he’s overcome and the message that he’s brought a. yeah, I’m just in awe of magic, you know, and it all the time, especially when I’m with him, he just had such a presence and an aura about him.
Coby Bryant is, is probably one of the most misunderstood athletes. I think I’m 38, you know, so I kinda grew up with watching Colby Bryan, you know, and a fun factoid for you. A Guy I went to high school with by the name of Ryan actually competed against coby Brian during an Aau basketball game. He was a junior and Colby was a junior, I believe, at lower merion. And after the game, uh, Ryan actually blocked one of Cobi shots, got kind of lucky and Brian’s mother went up to Colby and after the game and one at her, him to sign her son shoes. And Ryan’s like, no, no, no, no, no. You can’t ask the guy I’m playing against to sign my shoes. This is right when there was that rumor of him going to the NBA the next year and uh, he said Colby was intense in high school. Where do people get Toby Bryant wrong and to talk to us about his intensity. Just help us to understand the myth that is coby Bryant.
Well, you’re getting into, you know, the broader issue of the Mamba Mentality of course, which is the title of the book I just came out with and you know, the Mamba mentality just didn’t happen. I mean the guy just didn’t wake up one day and, and become who he was. I mean, this was started very early in life. He talks about going to the gym with his dad, who of course, you know, was a professional basketball player and they lived in Italy. Well Colby was growing up and then moved to Philadelphia in high school and playing against the bigger guys and uh, and, and really learning the game like, you know, right there in front of his father, but also breaking down. I mean, it’s incredibly because he used to break down like vhs tapes of the greats that were sent to him, to his dad in Italy, you know, he’s watching Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan or an all star taper if nba finals or whatever it is.
And he became such a student of the game. So his obsession with the game, which is really the essence and the root of the Mamba Mentality, um, started very early in life. So, um, here’s a guy who probably could have gone from junior high school to the NBA, but, uh, but I don’t think they would take it to the eighth graders back that, but he, um, it was certainly ready to go to the NBA at 17. He had just turned 18 when training kids started. And when I met him I knew that. I knew there was something special about this kid. I’m honestly, I saw some stuff in him that I saw myself at that age. I’m 20 years older than him, but I remember, you know, what, this driving need, 18 years old. So, you know, we, we bonded then and it has had a great bond ever since and that led to this great collaboration over 20, 20 years to photographing him.
Tell us about this, just this new book here, the Mamba Mentality with yourself, your, your photographs, a coby, Brian’s book. Tell us about your involvement in the book and how the book came about.
Well, it’s a great question. During colbys final year after he announced his retirement in November and had sort of the farewell tour the rest of the season, I kept thinking about the thousands and thousands of photos that I’ve taken it him over the years. I mean literally probably have taken half a million pictures. It’s not more of in over 20 year period and how the public really is only seen the tip of the iceberg of that, you know, what’s ever been published and you know, it just seemed a little bit of a shame that that stuff would just sit in the archive back in the MBA photos office. So probably forever. Um, and that it needed to have some kind of voice or life to it. So I approached coby right after he retired about doing a book together, a big coffee table book, big photos, you know, he would write some captions and maybe chapter headings and he was very respectful of the pitch that I gave him.
My native prototype, closed it and said, you know what, Andy said, this is very nice. We’re going to do a book together, but it’s not going to be this book. We’re going to do the book I want to do. And I said, great. What do you got in mind? Mr Mamba? And he wanted to do a book that was a deep dive into what made him tick as a player. You know, he was like you said, he was mysterious. He kept to himself. He was very enigmatic, you know, he, he had, he had techniques and ways of training that nobody thought. I mean I was the only one, honestly, besides the trainer or as a physiologist or a physical therapist or doctor, whoever saw what went on behind the scenes with this guy. So, you know, that was, goes back to your question earlier, but that was built over a long period of time of trust and he allowed me to document all that, you know, throughout the years. So He, uh, we sat down, we hammered out what the book would look like. The book is literally in two parts of the process and craft and processes, deals with everything that he had to do to prepare mentally, physically, um, come back from injury, take care of his body and mind to prepare himself and be ready to play as an in craft is everything basketball related, how he breaks down his game, his opponents game, um, he learned from the greats, like playing against Michael Jordan.
And what he really wants to get across in this book is you, you could achieve the Mamba mentality. You don’t have to be another coby Brian. You don’t have to aspire to be in because there’s really only one him. But you can have the Mamba mentality to take your potential beyond what you even think you’re capable of. And, you know, he talks about his obsession about the game and how it drove him and how it was really, you know, tunnel vision for 20 years. Um, and it’s a very, uh, insightful, deep dive. A lot of people, not just basketball or sports people, but even people in regular walks of life, business people can get a lot out of what he has to say. And so the book is 100 percent in his words, supported by 100 percent of my photos.
I really encourage all listeners to go out and check out this book, uh, the Mamba mentality. Uh, in 80 I have, I have three final questions for you because I want to tap into your Mamba mentality here a little bit aware that everybody out there today who has about three grand is calling themselves a professional photographer. Everybody, everybody, everybody is saying, Oh, I’ve got a camera now. Back in the day, the barrier of entry been a little bit harder, right? Maybe you maybe needed $10,000 for the gear, but you know what I mean? It’s, it’s as, as the cost of gear’s gone down, more and more people say, I’m a photographer, that’s what I do. But you stepped on the scene, you paid your dues, you’re working for sports illustrated for next to nothing. You’re developing your techniques, but then something happened where you like, dialed in to this next level, I call it mastery, and you’re credited with having developed this multiple camera, a flash wizard system that allows people to photograph the game like never before. How did you develop this system?
That’s a loaded question. Before this system was developed with these big strobe units that I talked about, you could only really shoot with the camera that you were looking through. Um, and possibly trigger one more remote camera, remote cameras, a camera that’s mounted somewhere usually through the back board, you know, you’ve seen those images. Were the cameras mounted behind the back board and the of the basket or on the basket stanchion or even up in the rafters looking straight down. So it was really the only option you had was to use either the camera in your hand and you’re looking through or push a trigger button and the remote camera would go off. Reason being that the strobes can only react to one camera. Basically Sydney couldn’t only be synchronized to one camera, so it was either the one in your hand or the one that’s mounted.
Right. So with sports illustrated they developed a technique where they could hard wire, take wire and if you can imagine how big and arenas you’re stringing wire from one camera to the next and then to. This was really honestly called a black box or the switching unit that all the cameras would come in. And then somehow or other, I don’t really know the Mumbo jumbo how it happened. But you were allowed you at that point could trigger three or four, maybe five remote cameras at a time with the stroke. But it was very time consuming, difficult to set up, you know, especially on a nightly basis. So we partnered, we mean an NBA, nba photos, partnered with a couple of guys, mit grads, but didn’t know squat about really about sports and sports photography, but they knew about light and they knew about a radio control and they develop the system called the flash was a two system with our help to synchronize by radio control, an infinite number of cameras. I mean we at one point we’re doing 35, 36 cameras remotely that we’re all going off at the same time with one push of a button.
What, what year were you doing?
This was during the Jordan era as this was all born out of wanting to next umyes how many, how many sales you could make from a Michael Jordan’s dunk, two different entities, different media. So imagine Michael’s going in for this tremendous dunk. Right? And I shoot it with my handheld cameras, you know, I’m looking through and then there’s seven or eight remote cameras that are shooting it from different angles. Right? So all of those cameras are recording the same moment, but they’re not recording the same picture. Right? Each one is its own individual photograph. Because it’s from a different angle, so therefore you can sell the same moment in time, two different entities, even competing entities, two different poster companies could run a poster or trading card of that moment of Michael’s dunk, but from different angles. So it became, you know, a business decision almost like how can we maximize how much, how many sales we can make from photos like that, and took a couple of years of, of agonizing r and d honestly to get it right. And keep in mind, this is back in the film days, cameras were not, not particularly dependable in terms of being able to all synchronize together. Now in the digital era, basically out of the box, these cameras worked perfectly. And uh, that’s my, my way of doing business. Every single game we do seven remote cameras. I have three or four cameras in front of me that I use, but I’m able to trigger through, through this technology, um, seven or eight remote cabins.
I only have one grievance there about your technology, Andy Bernstein. I think you probably missed the boat. You could have called it the flux capacitor. Don’t you think the flux capacitor?
Yeah, that would’ve been cool. Yeah, I think it’s a great thing. The flash was too, because people don’t really have any idea what that needs. People see these units. They’re like little key pads that sit next to the cameras where they’re located, but also in a small cluster on the basket and people are always asking me like, what are those calculators? What are those calculators? They’re actually flashed wizard like fever unit that we use. That would be cool.
That’s a dream team. Nineteen 92. Couldn’t have been bigger, you know Karl Malone and John Stockton. Clyde Drexler. Charles Barkley was Christian later on that team to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird. There are so many big guys on the team. Magic Johnson. And then they say you, Andy Bernstein, we want you to be the official photographer after you wet your pants, what was going through your mind?
Well, in retrospect, I would have liked to have retired after that assignment because no assignment ever came close to that the rest of my career. Um, it was seven weeks and embedded with the team. Um, I was honored and humbled that they had asked me to be their official photographer at that point the NBA was working hand in hand with USA basketball and with Fiba, which is the world governing body and um, myself and my cohort net butler, he shared, he shared that with me to the entire experience, but I was kind of the first guy in, you know, and it was able to record some unbelievable moments with a truly the greatest team I think of any sport ever assembled, not just basketball, but I, I would, I would beg anyone to try to find an all star team or Olympic team that matched the 92 dream teams mentoring team because I don’t think it’s possible.
Were you photographing the practice scrimmage that wasn’t televised. What were the big game that Chuck Daly described as the greatest game? Never televised. Were you? Were you there in that practice?
That practice? That’s a very specific practice that. But I was, I was at most of the other practices and they were intense, you know, keep in mind that these guys didn’t have much competition in the 92 Olympics. And they were beating teams by 40 or 50 points,
so to keep their
and their juices flowing. I’m coach daily, decided he’s going to have some pretty intense practices. And he did a two gardens in San Diego at training camp and extended through Portland, the tournament of the Americas and into Monte Carlo. And um, you know, these guys took it very, very seriously, you know, their, their reputations and egos or on the line I think. And uh, to this day I’m very thankful that I was privy to, to watching some of this amazing competition. I mean, all those guys you talked about, but of course, you know, you had the great centers too. You had David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, I mean these guys, you know, these guys were the top of the top. So, and then being around coach daily was just the incredible experience. He was the master tactician. He, uh, he knew how to, how to deal with these guys, egos, but also had to mesh them together. And um, it was just a great experience. So I had the good fortune to take my dad to a lot of this. And it was a real bonding experience with my dad and I that it started back when I was a kid, he would take me to hockey games and baseball games. So the nice sort of payback to him and he remained a great moment between us for, you know, for the rest of the time that he was alive.
I’m really glad that you mentioned your dad and David Robinson. I C, I a today, David Robinson’s one of my business partners, uh, for our, our podcast and an online school. And my dad and my mom would let me cheer for AC Green and David Robinson. Those were the two I can cheer for him, you know, those are the quote unquote good guys. You know what I mean? So I got a chance to cheer for those guys. And so it was kind of a life time goal of mine to be able to work with David in some capacity. Although he’s much older than me and the guy is nicer in person than I thought he would be. And I already thought he was going to be nice
military pedigree. So he’s very polite, very professional, good guy. I was with him last has been within the lot over the years, but within last summer in Israel when we were over there with the NBA on a, on a tour with the owners and I mean everyone obviously recognizes him still and he’s very gracious with everybody and I’m glad you mentioned podcasts because he’s going to be a guest on my podcast coming up somewhat soon, I guess early January.
Absolutely. My final question for you is the NBA has a lot of photographers, but my understanding is that you are like the official head photographer, Guru guy for the NBA. What’s the official title is? It’s still head wizard to guru guy. What’s your official title there?
Well, for a long time I was pretty much the, it was the first official NBA photographer and that was a, that came about in 1986 and I continue to be like working my way up there. Became the senior official photographer at all. Now I’m considered the longest tenured official NBA photographer because we have other official NBA photographers. Um, like I said, my good friend Matt Butler, New York has been doing it almost as long as Ni is a photographer named Jesse Garrett brand down in Philadelphia who was, was our third guy in and then all the team photographer is throughout the league. All 30 teams report to NBA photos as a, as a team photographer for the team that they represent. Um, but you know, I guess I’ve been around the longest, so I get to have that title.
No, I don’t know if it’s fish oil or if it’s the camera angles or the lighting. But you’re still looking like your tank tops.
Well, you’re probably looking at an old picture.
Why are you giving me an old andrew here? He’s taken show notes, feeding me old photos. Andrew, come on now. He just said he made it black and white to make it look okay.
Alright. With hair and a mustache, you’re looking at an old picture of buddy
by the way. That mustache right there. That was a thick mustache.
That was the serious eighties bus dash going, that’s for sure.
You were sold out to the air and I appreciate that. And in Andy Bernstein, I appreciate you for taking time to be on the show.
Really proud to be on with you. You had great questions by the way. Uh, hope you don’t take that for granted because you’re a great interviewer and I hope everyone can, uh, can check out the book Mamba Mentality, how I play by Coby Brian, uh, photos by me and I’m following me on instagram at a db photoing as well as my podcast so you don’t mind a little, it’s called called legends of sport. It can be found on apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and social media legends of sport as well. So, um, you know, tune in, check us out. I have a blog, legends of sport that block where we’re posting daily on what’s going on in sports history and what’s going on with a guest on our podcast every week. So that’s an interactive blog that people can come and on. And uh, you know, I really appreciate the asked.
Hey, well you take care of my friend and don’t go it.
I’ll try my best so far for all years. Take care. Happy holidays,
youtube to end the show without bringing a super incredible in. Be a standard high quality professional boom. And so now, if any further, I do three. Boom,
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