Bill Hass on the ACC: Bob Jordan Once Again in the Zone Shooting the ACC Tournament
March 12, 2009
By Bill Hass
ATLANTA – Bob Jordan began the 2009 ACC Tournament the same way he had 31 other times.
When the national anthem was played before Thursday’s first game, Jordan, a 66-year-old former paratrooper, stood erect and sharply saluted the flag. A few moments later, he took his position on the baseline, raised his camera to his eye and began snapping pictures.
The tournament has a certain number of people who are fixtures, even if the general public doesn’t notice them. Jordan is one of those people.
He first attended the tournament in 1977 as a photographer with the Associated Press, which has its North Carolina bureau in Raleigh. Although he retired in 2004 and now lives in Vero Beach, Fla., Jordan has returned the last five years to shoot for the ACC at the invitation of Brian Morrison, the league’s associate commissioner for media relations.
Morrison said that with the advent of the Internet, the conference has a need to post photos from the football championship game and the basketball tournament on its web site. And there are many other uses for his images, including by the ACC office and for the 12 ACC schools.
It was a natural, then, that the ACC turned to Jordan.
“You just can’t find a more talented photographer,” Morrison said. “So Bob wanted to keep his hand in it and, I think, more than readily agreed to it. We’ve used him for football and basketball ever since he retired.”
Things are different than they were in Jordan’s days with the AP when he had to deal with the pressure of deadlines. But his workload hasn’t diminished. He will shoot all 11 tournament games plus several special presentations.
“I really haven’t done any basketball for a year,” he said between the Thursday sessions at the Georgia Dome Thursday. “I sat back down in the position and it seems like I was just doing it yesterday.
“It’s enjoyable. I loved covering basketball when I was doing it full-time for AP. I did it for so many years that the routine of how to shoot it has not changed.”
Jordan still gets some pre-game nerves. It might sound surprising that someone who has been a professional photographer for more than 40 years still gets nervous, but Jordan thinks that’s a good thing.
“Our neighbor’s boy is in the seventh grade and plays football and lacrosse and I go to his games and shoot pictures for the kids and their parents, and I get nervous doing that,” he said. “I think you have to have some nerves or you don’t respect it; it’s not important to you.”
In his deadline days, the event was so important to Jordan that he developed a pre-game ritual.
“I had a routine where I would just get away from everybody,” he explained. “At least 30 minutes before the game started, I’d go out on the floor, I’d sit down, I’d play with my cameras, I’d just get in a zone where I’d block everything else out and when the game started I followed the ball. I found that to work very well.”
Other photographers may not have fully understood that, but it didn’t diminish their respect for him.
“He is the consummate photographer,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a veteran photographer for the Greensboro News & Record. “He used to beat everybody by being the hardest worker. If you put your camera down to take a break during a basketball game, then you miss that special moment happening. I think he beat everybody by keeping his butt on the floor and keeping his camera to his eye.”
Rodriguez explained that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Photographers keep two or three cameras on hand, one with a long lens for the far court, another with a shorter lens for the front court and sometimes a third for long bench shots or crowd shots. As the ball changes ends, they’re constantly putting down one camera and picking up another. The one with the longest lens, Jordan estimated, weighs around 18 pounds.
One game is no big deal. But after doing that for four games, Jordan said, “you’re pretty tired when the day is done.”
There is a different perspective to watching basketball through a camera lens. A photographer doesn’t have the wide view of fans in the stands, those on press row or folks watching TV, so he may miss a lot of peripheral action. Fortunately, the playing area isn’t so big that it can’t be covered from one position.
“Unless I had an assignment to get somebody specific, as an AP photographer I always followed the ball,” Jordan said. “So the stuff away from the ball, that wasn’t my focus. Let’s say I’m watching one coach and the other coach does something. I don’t even see what’s going on until I hear the crowd react. So you kind of have tunnel vision.”
When Jordan first started shooting ACC tournaments, he used two company-issued Nikons, one with a 180-millimeter lens for long shots and the other with an 85- or 105-millimeter lens for closer shots. He also kept a 24-millimeter lens handy for things that happened right in front of him. He had to manually change the focus on each one.
The technology has changed dramatically. Jordan now uses three digital Canon cameras, one with a 300-millimeter lens, another with a 70- to 200-millimeter zoom lens and a third with a 400-millimeter lens to shoot benches and wide-angle shots. All, of course, are auto-focus.
Photographers used to shoot the first few minutes of a game, develop film in a portable darkroom and transmit the pictures through the wire service to all AP subscribers. Then they would return to the court to shoot the last few minutes of the game.
Now, since they don’t need darkrooms, they load the digital images into their laptops. The tradeoff is there are more pictures needed for the print editions for newspapers and for the Internet photo galleries, so the job is no less time-consuming.
“I just miss the pure part of being in the darkroom and watching the image come up and working with your hands,” Jordan said. “That era is gone. I miss that, but I don’t miss it on deadline.”
There is a hazard to shooting basketball that most people don’t realize until they see it happen. Photographers are vulnerable to being run over by players or hit by a pass that has gone awry. It has happened to Jordan several times, the most serious at the 1994 Final Four in Charlotte. He doesn’t remember the player who flattened him.
“They ran over me in the first half of the first semifinal game,” he said. “I shot the rest of the first half but I don’t remember it. I was knocked out, I don’t remember how long, and the people on the back row pushed me back up. I shot the rest of the half but when I went back at halftime I was kind of woozy and I really could not remember much about that last 10 minutes or so.
“The closer you are to the basket standard, where the players are coming down on fast breaks, that’s the greater part where you have a chance to get hit. That happens. You have to pay attention to the ball, too. If somebody throws a bullet pass and it doesn’t connect and you’re looking over at the bench and don’t see the ball, it can really do some damage. There’s a risk there, there’s no question about it.”
In addition to his photos, Jordan has always been known for helping others. Rodriguez said Jordan always made sure all North Carolina photographers were on the same team, sharing equipment when needed and performing duties, like developing film, that was beneficial to everyone.
Morrison recalled practice day at the 1995 tournament in the remodeled Greensboro Coliseum, in which permanent darkrooms had been installed. There was a problem with the door of one being used by the Charlotte Observer and Jordan jumped up on a small table to help fix it.
“I was up there working on it and pushed the table right out from under me,” Jordan said. “I fell and hit my face; I put my teeth through under here (under his bottom lip). They had to take me to the hospital and they stitched me up and my face was swollen. It was a pretty nasty injury.”
Jordan returned to his hotel room and planned to go back to the coliseum the next day, but the AP sent him home. He did come back and shoot the championship game, however.
Morrison and Jordan developed a close bond. Morrison’s father was a military man and with that background, he felt a close kinship to the former paratrooper. It was enhanced by their mutual interest in sports.
In the course of his career, Jordan has done much more than shoot sports. The only ACC Tournament he missed was in 1991, when he was embedded with the First Infantry Division during the Gulf War, which he called “a life-changing experience.” During the tournament, his fellow photographers, wearing yellow ribbons, posed for a picture at center court of the Charlotte Coliseum. Morrison issued a credential for Jordan in absentia.
Jordan has photographed famine in Somalia, presidential inaugurations, and more spot news, state government news, military events and general features than he can remember. The sports scene has found him at the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR races, professional sports venues and a host of college events. In short, there’s not much that he hasn’t photographed through the years.
And he should still keep recording images of the ACC Tournament for the foreseeable future.
“As long as Brian keeps bringing me back I’d love to come back,” said Jordan. “It was always the highlight of my year at AP to be involved in the ACC Tournament.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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