The Art of Shooting The Spurs

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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(D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images)

The Admiral hangs in the air, suspended in time: Long arms, bent at the elbows, extend up and behind his head, massive hands gripping a rebound. Two Detroit Pistons stand helplessly below, to the left and right of the young center, their heads reaching the mid-thigh of David Robinson's elevated body.

Even then, 17 years ago, The Admiral cut an imposing figure. In this black and white image, captured by D. Clarke Evans, Robinson stands out like a diamond on black velvet: the shine of his uniform illuminating a frame of dark jerseys and distant faces in shadow.

The composition is stunning. The eye, naturally drawn to light, falls on Robinson, the only player in white. The eye, drawn to distinct shapes, falls on Robinson’s limbs, each forming a textbook picture of right angles and triangles. If you were to draw a straight line from every set of eyes in the scene, each would land on the central figure in the geometric center. Robinson (who slammed the rebound back in for a dunk).

It was as if Evans drew up the image in a studio. Picture perfect. Like a master work produced with painstaking care. But the photo was shot on the fly, snapped in the crucible of a historic 1994 NBA game.

“That was his 10th rebound of the night,” recalls Evans, the Spurs team photographer since 1989, “and that got him a quadruple double.”

Robinson is one of only four NBA players to have recorded a quadruple double. Evans captured the Admiral’s feat with a rare, transfixing beauty, the kind you might find in a museum.

His Spurs’ portfolio unfolds like a book of art. A high, overhead shot of Coach Gregg Popovich drawing up a play, his players encircling him and the grease board. The unveiling of the Spurs most recent NBA championship banner: the first three in shadow, the fourth bathed in light. The Coyote airborne, torso angled toward the basket, head above the rim, feet below the net, ball in his left hand, ready to dunk.

“I challenge myself,” says Evans, 64, “to shoot more than just the game.”

(D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images)
Evans came to sports photography late -- in his early 40s -- but developed an eye for artistry early. “I started taking private art lessons when I was six,” he says. “I continued until I was 18. When I am photographing a scene, I am very conscious of how the elements of a scene fit together to form a composition that is pleasing to the eye. That comes second nature to me.”

Like many athletes he shoots, Evans himself is a compelling story. Conceived in New Orleans, his parents drove to Waco, his mother checked into a hospital, then mom an dad headed back home with a new arrival. Why? “So I could be born a Texan,” Evans says.

The son of a World War II veteran and lawyer, Evans moved with his family back to Texas and grew up in Lubbock. He joined the Marines as a reservist at 17. In 1969, he competed in the National Marine Corps Reserve Rifle Match in Quantico, Va. Using an M14, Evans fired at targets from 200 yards standing, from 300 feet sitting, from 500 yards prone. “I finished second in the nation,” he says.”I missed first by one bullseye.”

The journey from child artist to Marine Corps marksman took more surprising turns. Evans graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in economics. He became a bank vice president in Hobbs, N.M. He took a job as director of the Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum in Indiana. He enrolled at Brooks Institute, a renowned school of photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the mid-80s, he moved to San Antonio and became a commercial photographer.

On Jan. 1, 1989, Evans fulfilled two New Year’s resolutions. He wrote letters to the Spurs and the Texas Photographic Society, asking for jobs. More than two decades later, he remains with both. “When I became president of TPS in 1993, we had 100 members,” says Evans, who holds the same title today. “Now we have more than 1,000 from 48 states and nine countries.”

He started with the Spurs during Robinson’s rookie season, and his tool bags have grown. As a newbie, Evans fit two cameras and the rest of his equipment into a small bag. Today, he lugs five cases with five cameras into the AT&T Center about five hours before tipoff. He mounts two cameras on each side of the glass and a third underneath. Evans sits beneath the basket on the opposite end with two hand-held cameras, one with a long lens, the other with a short lens.

You name it, Evans has shot it. Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle. Tim Duncan’s first game. David Robinson’s last game. A thousand Tony Parker teardrops.

Evans favorite shot? Manu Ginobili and Kevin Durant soaring above the rim in 2010. Durant attempting a two-handed dunk. Ginobili denying with his left hand. An astonishing image. A ferocious block.

The artist is a master of anticipation. “I have the best seat in the house,” Evans says. “I wait for these guys to come to me and I take their picture. If I miss, I know they’ll be back in 24 seconds.”