Bernstein presented a 1992 All-Star MVP photo to Magic Johnson at NBA All-Star Jam Session on Wednesday
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

By John Hareas

He is part of basketball lore, right up there with some of the NBA's all-time greats: Kareem, Magic, Bird, Worthy, Jordan, O'Neal and Bryant. Although he never scored a point, finished on a Showtime fast break or even nailed a buzzer beater, this skilled performer has excelled in another arena, one that also requires quickness and plenty of flash.

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For the past 21 years, Andrew D. Bernstein, the NBA's Senior Official Photographer and official Lakers and Clippers team photographer, has documented some of the greatest moments in NBA history. His photos of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, the Dream Team and Shaquille O'Neal along with countless other portrait and action images have been enjoyed by fans all over the world through NBA.com, league publications, international and national Web sites and magazines.

Larry Bird, 1986 All-Star Game
Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images
His assignments for the NBA and Olympics have taken him to Athens, Barcelona, Germany, Japan, London, Paris, Puerto Rico, Sydney and numerous other destinations while his work has received numerous awards and honors, including being one of only four photographers whose work was selected for permanent exhibit in the media wing of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Andy is the best photographer because he can capture you and he knows you better than anyone I've worked with," said Johnson. "He knows you personally, so he understands how to shoot you and how to photograph you because of the relationship we have. He knew when I was smiling, he knew when I was about to do one of my famous no-look passes. So, he was already ready because he knew me away from the court. He knew Michael Jordan like that and Larry Bird. He gets to know you as a man and not just a basketball player and I think that's why he has some of the best photographs of anybody."

This year's NBA All-Star Game is a homecoming of sorts for Bernstein, whose first assignment for the NBA was in 1983, the last time the NBA hosted the midseason classic in Los Angeles. This year, fans can check out Bernstein's celebrated photos at NBA Jam Session, located in the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, from Thursday through Monday.

What can NBA fans and photography enthusiasts expect to see at the NBA All-Star Photo Exhibition?

Andrew Bernstein: "The exhibit is a 20-year retrospective. It spans 20 All-Star Weekends, beginning with 1983, which was my first All-Star Game. It was a game back then, not a weekend. It was the first time I ever worked for the NBA. Fans are going to see a tremendous display of how exciting All-Star Weekend is, from all of the Saturday events, the Rookie Game, the three-point contest and the dunk contest. They'll also see a variety of the All-Star Game itself and the classic matchups between great players such as Magic and Isiah, Dr. J, Michael, Kobe, Shaq, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, all the way the down, from 1983 through last year's game in Atlanta."

This Michael Jordan photo is a Bernstein favorite.
Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images
Is their a specific photo that is on display that is one of your favorites?

Bernstein: "I think my favorite is the Jordan dunk from the free-throw line from the 1988 Slam Dunk contest in Chicago. It's the opening shot of the exhibition. It's such a historic moment.

"The dunk really exploded in the mind of the public and I think that particular move really defined it. Michael was replicating Dr. J's famous take off in Denver from the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest in Denver, although, no one had really seen it because it was in the ABA. For him to have done that was really unbelievable.

"If you look at the photo, you'll notice that the majority of fans in the arena are standing up with their mouths open, reminiscent of Michael's last shot over Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Michael has always been known for tremendous highlights and moments and that one is probably my favorite picture."

How did you receive your first assignment with the NBA back in 1983?

Bernstein: "I was sitting around the Lakers PR guy's office in November of 1982 and he told me, 'Hey, by the way, you know we're hosting the NBA All-Star Game here in February. Why don't you go back and meet this guy at the NBA and maybe they can use you.' So, I'm like, OK, why not. I met with a person named Porter McKinnon at the league office, which at the time, consisted of only four employees in their NBA Properties office. He worked on a publication called, NBA Today, and he told me, ‘Yeah, OK. You could work with us. Why not?'"

How much has All-Star changed since your first assignment?

Bernstein: "It was just a game then. There was a party the night before but really no big deal. In '84, the NBA instituted the Slam Dunk contest and three-point contest and it has really just exploded from there. It's become a gigantic event. NBA Jam Session arrived a few years after that. The entire city, whatever city serves as the host, basically gets taken over by the NBA for that entire week. From our standpoint, I probably covered the first five or six All-Star Games by myself, including the weekend events. I did the portraits, the parties, games, everything. Now, we have approximately 14 photographers and the crew is around 35 to 40 people. I'm part of it now, no longer just doing it all myself, which actually is pretty good. It takes the pressure off."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the pregame shootaround in 1983.
Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images
When did you first start shooting NBA games?

Bernstein: "I started in the '79-80 season, which was also Magic's first season. I like to say that we were rookies together. I was freelancing and I was still in school at the time. That's when I started actually shooting. By saying I was a professional means I was actually earning money. I tried to get a credential wherever I could, shooting hockey games, basketball games, football games, Dodger games, whatever I could do. I was trying to build a portfolio for school at the time.

"I was also assisting for Sports Illustrated while I was in school and through those connections I made at the Forum, I was able to get myself in to shoot games on my own as a freelancer. My first season, I probably shot around five Lakers games. Now, I'll shoot anywhere from 80-100 Laker games and 40 or so Clipper games. If it's an Olympic year, which this year is, I'll shoot around 130 games or so."

When you started out, did you ever think you would be honored at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield?

Bernstein: "It's kind of funny. I did my undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, which is just up the road from Springfield. I actually visited the old Hall of Fame when I was in school. Never in a million years did I ever think that as a photographer, much less myself, that I would ever been honored or included in the Hall of Fame."

Talk about your professional relationship and friendship with Magic and how it's evolved over the years?

Bernstein: "Magic and I kind of started together. He came into the league in 1979-80 when they called him 'The Young Buck.' He was kind of fresh-faced and wide eyed at the time. Both of us moved to L.A. I had just moved here to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Our careers sort of paralleled because I started shooting when he started playing. He became very successful at a young age and my career started to take off. Of course, the Lakers' success –- I was there for all of the Showtime championships.

Shawn Marion at the 2001
got milk? Rookie Challenge.

Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images
"Magic and I became fast friends because I had to do a lot of off-the-court shoots with him, both for the NBA and some commercial shoots and things for Converse, which was my first commercial account. He invited me over to the house and I did some things with his family and I became very good friends with his wife and I shot his kids when they were born and for years, did his family Christmas cards.

"Plus, I traveled with the team to the big NBA events such as the McDonald's Championship and the NBA Finals. He always kind of viewed me as his official photographer and I loved that. When something happened with Magic, someone from his office would call or the PR guy or Lon Rosen from the Lakers would call and they knew I would be there. Whatever he needed from me, I was more than happy to do. On the flip side, when my book NBA Hoop Shots came out in '95, Magic was gracious enough to write the introduction. I have never abused the relationship with him.

"One of the greatest experiences I had with Magic was the Dream Team experience in '92. I was on the road for seven weeks with these guys, from training camp all the way through the gold medal game. At one point, in Monte Carlo, me, him and my dad went out in a private yacht and spent the entire day in Monaco and the Bay. It was an unbelievable moment and experience for me. He had a great time and was able to get away from everything and it was a great experience to share with my dad."

What are some of your most memorable All-Star moments?

Bernstein: "One of the funniest moments occurred in Indianapolis in '85. The game was at the Hoosier Dome, which was literally across the street from the hotel where the players were staying. There was probably about four feet of snow on the ground and it was freezing cold. The Eastern Conference All-Stars got on the bus, even though the arena is across the street, and the bus proceeds out on to the street and suddenly it got stuck. The guys have to get out of the bus in four feet of snow, wearing their fur coats. I don't know why they were wearing them considering they were going just from the hotel lobby, onto the bus and into the arena. The players ended up still having to walk to the arena.

Kobe Bryant, 1998 All-Star Game
Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images
"In terms of games, last year was really memorable because it was Michael's last All-Star Game and all of the players wanted autographs and pictures with him. That was really special for me and the '92 All-Star Game, of course, with Magic has to top the list. From the pregame hugs Magic received to the dramatic three-pointers, the one-on-one showdown with Isiah, the MVP award --- it was a difficult game for me to shoot. I was pretty choked up. Plus, his mom was there."

Why do you think players enjoy working with you?

Bernstein: "Magic always said that the reason he liked to work with me was because I was always prepared ahead of time and he didn't have to stand around and wait. I have a lot of respect for the players and what I enjoy is when I receive the respect back. My job is to make the players look good in any shoot that I do.

"I have a good rapport with the guys. Shaq and I have been friends since his rookie year. They like hanging out with me. The young guys like hearing the stories. I'm on the Laker plane and Kobe always wants to hear what's it like with Jordan in the beginning and I love relaying those stories. I just try to blend in, be a fly on the wall with a camera. Ninety-nine percent of the time that works."

Fans see photographers shooting on the sidelines yet what they don't see are all of the hours in preparation and set up. What is required when you are shooting a Laker or Clipper home game?

Bernstein: "For a Laker game, we do 14 remote cameras, which requires a crew of four plus me. My main assistant, Noah Graham, arrives at 2:00 for a 7:30 game. We have to install all of the cameras around the arena while the other assistants arrive and set up the Flash Wizard system that syncs all of the cameras together. I show up around 4 and tweak everything and then we have dinner followed a production meeting to discuss what we're going to do that night. We have stuff to do for the Lakers every night on top of what we're doing for the NBA, which includes coverage for NBA.com. Catherine Steenkeste is our main shooter for that.

"After the game, there is about an hour-and-a-half of breakdown. Sometimes we get lucky if there is a Clipper game the next night after a Laker game or vice versa that we still have to take our cameras down around the court and on the stanchions but the perimeter cameras can all stay up, which is very lucky. With more than 300 events at STAPLES Center, we usually have to pull everything down."

Who are some of your favorite players to shoot?

Bernstein: "The players I'm around the most being Kobe and Shaq, absolutely. It's such a gift to shoot these guys every home game and then travel with them on the road. Kobe to me is a combination of Michael and Magic. You never know what you're going to get from the guy and he's explosive, he's exciting and he's expressive plus he's having fun out there. His enthusiasm to me is infectious and I love that. Trying to capture his essence with one frame is a real challenge like it was with Magic and Michael.

"Shaq is all about power but he'll also give you that light moment, too. You have to be ready for the wink or him putting his arm around a player. Of course, you have to be ready for the power dunks. I love the behind-the-scenes moments with these guys as well.

"I also love to photograph Allen Iverson. Even though I don't get to shoot him that often, he's a lot of fun because he's flashy and quick and it's very challenging to get him in one shot. Vince and KG. All of these guys, which are tremendous highlight films, sort of remind me of the guys from the past -– Dr. J and Dominique Wilkins -- and the guys that were exciting to shoot back when I first started. So, it's the next generation but they've sort of taken it to the next level."

Is it just as a thrill to shoot now as it was when you first started?

Bernstein: "I'm having as much fun now as I did 20 years ago. This photo exhibition has been an unbelievable gift. To go back in time and all of the effort that everyone back at the NBAE office did in researching and producing it has been terrific. Plus, having All-Star here in L.A. is a great thing. My children will be able to visit, my friends and family will be here. It's really come full circle for me."