Saturday, February 27, 2010

(In Defense of) The Armpit Shot

Left hand, right hand, it doesn't matter. I'm amphibious. - Charles Shackleford
They've been around ever since Naismith hung the peach basket and now that we're in the thick of another basketball season it's going to be difficult for fans to avoid them. Just flip to the front of your daily paper's sports section and there they'll be--plastered across the page in living color or glorious black and white with muscles bulging and mouths agape, the sports photog's blessing (on deadline) or curse (any other time it seems!)--The Armpit Shot.

Whether it was high school, college, or the NBA, I've covered a lot of basketball games and early in my career I was continually reminded to skip the armpit shots. They're the cliche'--roundball's answer to second base--that happen a million times a game. A good sports photo, I was told, had two faces and a ball; there was never any mention of the 'pits. But looking back, I wonder what I would've done only about a million times without them.

Like in 1987 at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis, IN, when a Brazilian defender swatted the ball from the hands of an unsuspecting Virgin Islands' player, momentarily disguising his identity and providing the most interesting and published image from the tournament.
Sometimes four armpits can be better than two, just ask the Bucks' Lee Mayberry and Derek Strong (right) as they muscle the Bulls' Scottie Pippen out of bounds. But the Spurs' David Robinson probably won't buy that, he knows two is all it takes to hammer the rock home even if he's too bashful to show it.
And let's not forget about jubilation photos too--what players celebrate with their arms at their sides??? I tell my photo classes that basketball is a vertical sport--photographed and played up and down not back and forth--and like it or not, the player's arms operate the same way. So armpit shots by definition are totally unavoidable and really just a consequence of the game. Once you accept and embrace this simple fact you may never cover or watch a basketball game the same again.
When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you'll fight for the winner's circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor. - Pat Riley