Capturing The Spurs

By: Lorne Chan

Thousands of cameras and phones were pointed at Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as they stood together on the AT&T Center floor, taking in the moment.

The Spurs received their 2014 championship rings and the banner had just been unveiled. While the trio admired their new jewelry together, Duncan looked for the one camera that mattered to him the most.

“Where’s Clarkie?” Duncan shouted.

In rushed D. Clarke Evans, the Spurs’ team photographer with his trademark ponytail and faded jeans. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker all made fists to show off their new rings and with that, Evans captured another classic moment in Spurs history.

Since 1989, Evans has chronicled almost every Spurs moment for the team and for the NBA. He photographed David Robinson’s career from start to finish and was there to see two former assistant coaches, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, take over the reins of the franchise.

All basketball fans have seen Clarke’s photos, whether they knew it or not. Evans has taken thousands of shots of Duncan hugging a ball, Ginobili contorting while hoisting a shot or Parker crashing into the lane.

As technology has evolved, everybody in the AT&T Center can take photos of the Spurs. They post pictures by the thousands to social media every night. But those photos can be fleeting, gone once someone refreshes their feed or updates their phone.

For the past 26 years, there has only been one Spurs team photographer. And Evans has created Spurs memories that endure.

 “I wrote the Spurs a letter in 1989, asking if they needed some help with photos of the arena,” Evans said. “I guess they let me hang around.”

The Spurs’ home was HemisFair Arena then, and Evans was based in architectural and studio photography. He’d never shot sports photos before, but Spurs officials asked him to try out for a position.

Evans estimates he’s since taken somewhere between 750,000 to 1,000,000 photos of the Spurs, as the team moved to the Alamodome and then the AT&T Center.

But Evans, 69, has been missing this season. In October, after 26 years shooting the Spurs, Evans retired to pursue other projects.

 “I remember at the end of the first season, I thought that was a good year and figured I’d do it again,” Evans said. “I had no idea there would be 26. It’s been amazing, and I’m so appreciative.”

Evans’ photography career began when previous jobs working at a bank and a museum ended in the early 1980s. He wasn’t a fan of wearing a suit to work. Even worse, he couldn’t stand working at a place where he didn’t feel like he was a part of something.

Evans quit his job and drove to California. He enrolled at the Brooks Institute, a photography school in Santa Barbara. Upon graduation in the mid-80s, he moved to San Antonio and became a commercial photographer.

On Jan. 1, 1989, Evans wrote his letter to the Spurs. Nine months later, the team brought him in for an audition. Evans’ rookie year with the Spurs ended up being the same season as David Robinson’s rookie season.

“I was a Spurs fan, but I’d never shot sports before,” Evans said. “It was truly on-the-job learning.”

Because of his studio training, Evans had a unique eye for Spurs photography, one that caught on with the organization and with fans.

Evans’ photos often look beyond the game. He’d frame particular moments, such as Duncan standing in front of the championship banners, the way hands are placed in a huddle, or reactions when The Coyote does something absolutely ridiculous.

Evans also took the Spurs’ official team photo and media day photos every season.

He is always looking for a photo, even when it isn’t part of the job.

He’ll sometimes take photos of players’ kids running on the court before games or photos of fans, ushers and Spurs staff members in candid moments.

If he saw a nice shot of a player or coach’s family and friends that he liked, he’d make them a print and then delete the photo so it remained private for the player.

“There’s a trust factor there,” said Eric Gay, an Associated Press photographer who has worked at Spurs games since 1999. “I think Clarke built that trust because everybody knew he would always go above and beyond what was required.”

Other photographers said they noticed Evans’ work ethic as well. Evans always arrived at the arena four hours before a game for set up, including three or four remote cameras he puts behind the backboards.

His routine was so noticeable at the AT&T Center that one Spurs fan spotted Evans at a post office and said, “hey, you’re the guy who fixes the backboards.”

 “If you can’t be a player, photographing is about as good as it gets,” Evans said. “I get to capture something that 18,000 people and millions more see. And when they want to hold on to those memories, sometimes they’ll use my photos to do it.”

The Spurs would create posters out of Evans’ photos in the 1990s, putting his shots of Sean Elliott and Robinson in many of San Antonio’s bedrooms.

Evans’ photos have since appeared all over the world as basketball’s global popularity exploded.

He remembers being floored while sitting on a bus in Milan, Italy, and seeing a billboard advertising the 1999 McDonald’s Championship. The Spurs were in the tournament by virtue of being the defending NBA Champions, and Evans’ photo of Duncan was now on the side of a building in Italy.

With advancements in photo technology, Evans’ shots appearing in France, Australia or South America is now a common occurrence.

When he first started, Evans would ship off his film to the NBA’s offices in New York to be edited, catalogued and processed. It was a process that would take about four days.

Last season, his cameras were connected at courtside to the NBA’s offices via a high-speed internet line, and they would appear online within minutes. Before the game’s even over, Evans’ photos have appeared in newspapers and on websites around the world.

“You can see in Clarke’s photos how well he knows the Spurs,” said Ed Ornelas, a San Antonio Express-News photographer since 2000. “He knows their habits, their routines and their backstories, and that all comes through when you’re trying to take a great photo.” 

Evans said he misses being on the court. But after 26 years, he wanted to spend time working on his next project.

For Evans’ new journey, he’s photographing World War II veterans and retired Marines for a passion project. Evans served in the Marine Corps reserves and is the son of a World War II veteran.

 “I’ll always be grateful for my time with the Spurs,” he said. “People always say the Spurs are the best organizations in sports, but I don’t think that tells the whole story. From Peter Holt on down, they’re one of the best organizations overall.”           


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