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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Best Basketball Photo


By J.A. Adande

First of all, enough with the nonsense that the picture of Tiger Woods' flubbed chip shot headed straight toward the camera is the greatest sports photos of all time. It doesn't even belong in the same gallery as the Bobby Orr Stanley Cup-winning goal or the Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston classic, to name just two.

But it did get me wondering which basketball picture would merit nomination.

Photographers have captured the power of Patrick Ewing and the high point (literally) of Vince Carter's career and the burning desire in Michael Jordan's eyes when he was on the brink of moving past Magic to become the leader of the NBA's new dynasty.

If you checked out the recap of my night shooting alongside NBA photographer Andrew D. Bernstein you saw some of his memorable shots of Magic  and Larry Bird and Jordan.

I scanned through the Sports Illustrated cover archives and picked out this one of Bernard King (love the smoky background), a Michigan State-era Magic Johnson and a dynamic Dennis Rodman (move your cursor over the images to enlarge them). This shot of Sidney Moncrief elevating for a dunk was the highest-ranking basketball picture in Joe Posnanksi's recent blog on 32 great SI covers.

You can't go wrong with old Julius Erving pictures (This one reminds me of a Leroy Neiman painting). Any photos of the Doctor from the ABA days, with full Afro and red-white-and-blue basket, get bonus points.

The best pictures preserve not only moments but entire eras. They should also contain great subjects doing great things. The basketball shot that best combines all of those elements to me is this image of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) snatching a ball while at UCLA. The first time I saw the shot it blew me away. He probably wasn't as high in the air as the angle makes it appear, but he's still several planes above everyone else on the court. I imagine that's how helpless it felt to play against the Bruins at the time, when they were on a run of winning seven consecutive national championships, and were simply that much better than the rest. That photograph defines dominance.

If you asked me who the best player of the best college basketball dynasty ever was and I showed you that photo, you'd have your answer. Could any other basketball shot say so much? I can't picture it.