This is part three of an on-going series titled “CREDENTIALED.” Over the last decade I’ve been saving every credential from the various events I’ve covered. There are over 450 credentials stowed in my office. Some are small, some are large, some are media vests, others are as nondescript as an orange slip that says PHOTO. Some come from county fairs and others from Presidential inaugurations. More importantly, they’re a vehicle to check out the photos, stories and sometimes headaches that come along with all of them…
So this credential is sort of a big deal. I learned a lot from this credential. Like a whole lot. Not just about photography, but about not getting lost in the spotlight that is sometimes thrust upon you.
First of all, you know that annual “Midnight Madness” tradition kicking off NCAA basketball (probably my favorite sport to cover)? Well, that was started at the University of Maryland by then men’s basketball head coach Lefty Driesell. It actually started at midnight…players actually worked out….and about 3,000 fans were on tap to watch.
But a little more than 30 years after that first jog around Byrd Stadium led by Lefty I was standing a few feet behind John Gilchrist at Midnight Madness. At the moment the photo below was taken, Gilchrist was a few notches below the status of his Holiness on the College Park campus of the Univ. of Maryland.
A season before, he had helped the Terps knock off the top three seeds in consecutive games at the ACC Tournament. He capped it off with a 12-point comeback in five minutes against archrival Duke. So needless to say, at the start of the next season, he had achieved quite a bit of hype for the team.
I was proudly wearing the yellow badge up top, and being the even younger, even more naive photographer that I was then, I took the words ALL ACCESS to heart. I still love seeing those words on credentials today, but they rarely mean it. It’s usually more like ALL ACCESS (Except the places we don’t want you to go). Regardless, at that time I didn’t care that every other photographer was lined up across the court in the area they had cordoned off for us. I had ALL ACCESS. Naturally, I was going to take advantage of this fact and make my way to the back of the court.
I thought, “Boy wouldn’t it be wild to get Gilchrist coming out? The spotlight will be on him, the entire country has their eyes on this wunderkind ball player…” Then he came out. He didn’t do anything too flashy – he shrugged with the ball in his hands. I took the photo. From that angle it really does look like he’s shrugging, like he didn’t even know what to expect from the season.
Well I should’ve seen it coming then. As a sports photographer it’s never fun to photograph a train wreck. As a Maryland basketball fan it was pretty hard to stomach. Gilchrist, a potential top pick in the NBA Draft had he left a year earlier, was not on anyone’s NBA Draft by the end of the season. But more importantly? The season marked the end of Gary Williams’ 12 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. It was real tough to see that happen to a guy who terrified me with his passion on the court. A guy who had unearthed the basketball program from beneath the wreckage of many NCAA sanctions.
Despite the bad season, it’s nice to look back on this photo and remember how hyped up everything was at the time. It’s important to remember to never take anything for granted and to never get caught up in all that excitement. You can be top dog one day in any industry/field/profession, and the next day you’re nothing. And I’ll always remember John Gilchrist for teaching me that lesson.
Today’s Midnight Madness celebrations? They typically occur at about 8 p.m. and feature a host of laser beams, smoke machines and dancing basketball players. Maybe a dunk contest if you’re lucky. But who cares? They’re the closest thing the pro/college sports world has to a pep rally. You just go out there and scream and have a good time before anything has a chance to go wrong during the season. And isn’t that what being a sports fan is about these days?