Graydon Gordian


Graydon Gordian is a contributor to The Basketball Jones and the founder of 48 Minutes of Hell , an ESPN affiliate blog that covers the San Antonio Spurs. His friends from college call him Graybones, but he's known as Young Justice in Brooklyn, where he lives with his cat, Bea Arthur. Other people just call him Graydon cause it's an unusual enough name that nicknames aren't really necessary.

Recent Posts

Arguably the most underrated of All-Star Weekend Saturday night competitions, the 3-point contest demands from its participants both the skill of a marksman and the steady, rhythmic effort of a lumberjack. A metronomic elegance emerges as you watch every other ball clank off the rim and into the sea of pre-pubescent rebounders crowding the paint. The cadence of the clanking has lulled me into a peaceful slumber on more than one occasion.

But in 2003, when Pat Garrity, Peja Strojakovic, Brent Barry, Wesley Person, David Wesley’s ears and Antoine Walker took part in the economically titled 17th Annual NBA All-Star Weekend Foot Locker 3-point Shootout, there was not a drowsy eye in the house. The cameras, the lights, the sound equipment — it was all electric. The scene was so festive, so invigorating that one joyous man was moved to dance.

The contest was moving along steadily. After Pat Garrity and David Wesley’s ears posted middling scores of 13 and 12, respectively, Peja Stojakovic, the eventual champion, posted a score of 19, setting a furious new pace for the competition. Next up was Brent Barry, a 40 percent 3-point shooter best known for dunking from the free throw line that one time and being white. Barry would go on to star in numerous commercials for H.E.B., a beloved Central Texas grocery chain, and win a couple of NBA titles.

Barry’s round began like any other: a few makes, a few misses, a few more makes. But as he made his way around the racks, the anticipation built. He was closing in on Peja’s lead. As he headed for the final rack, he already had 14 points — enough to surpass Garrity and Wesley’s ears. But in order to equal Peja’s lead he needed to have his best rack of the round.

Make. Make. Miss. Make.

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This photograph, taken by Brian Babineau at Sunday’s game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics, is elegant yet simple. In many ways it’s far more elegant and far simpler than the average sports photograph. Everyone in the photograph is in motion, but it possesses a certain stillness: The way the out-of-focus ball hovers alongside the hand of the largely unseen Memphis guard; the calm focus that pervades Rajon Rondo’s face; even Jermaine O’Neal, whose mid-jog stride puts him most clearly in motion, doesn’t look hurried or strained.

Despite that stillness, it tells an elaborate, even familiar story. The unseen guard is bringing the ball up the floor. Rondo, casually keen, begins to square himself to the ball-handler and prepares to defend the play. O’Neal is headed into the paint. Only Rondo is in focus and yet a vision of the whole floor fills our imagination. It’s not difficult to see the wings trotting towards their perches along the 3-point line, the members of Memphis’ frontcourt planting themselves on either block or the defenders bending their knees and spreading their arms, readying themselves for what’s ahead.

It’s unclear which play this moment precedes, and yet it so resembles any old play that it brings a vivid picture of what’s beyond the edges of the photograph to mind. Rondo is looking in the direction of the camera, but it’s almost as if the viewer can see the court with the sets of eyes he has in the front and on the back of his head.

The elaborate story told by this simple photograph is largely due to the near perfect manner in which Babineau has framed the shot. He manages to clearly distinguish between the main subject, foreground and background, yet he obscures the latter two in a way that sparks our curiosity. In part we’re curious because, unlike much of sports photography, it’s a moment we’ve not merely seen countless times but lived as well.

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“I’m Here With…” is Graydon Gordian’s examination of NBA television announcers, a look at the characters who give voice to our favorite game. His first subject — Jeff Van Gundy.

A few years ago I sat down to watch the 1980 Wimbledon final, one of if not the most famous match in the history of tennis. At the beginning of the match, as the frizzy-haired John McEnroe and the indelibly cool Bjorn Borg prepared for the first serve, the play-by-play announcer, an Englishman with a tenor and refinement perfectly calibrated to call a tennis match, described the atmosphere – “electrifying” – and introduced the players’ family and friends in attendance: Borg’s fiancée, McEnroe’s father (who was blowing his nose, bringing to mind an image of an apple falling near the tree on which it grew), etc.

As McEnroe set his feet, the announcer paused, calmly uttered the words, “Here goes McEnroe,” and refrained from speaking for several minutes.

The silence (or the sound of the game itself rather) was astounding. Nowadays nearly every moment of any televised game, no matter the sport, is filled with the incessant chatter of play-by-play announcers and color commentators. The presence of their voice can be a joy, annoyance or outright frustration, but it is always present. As their words per minute have risen, so has the scrutiny. There are whole site’s dedicated to parsing through play-by-play commentary in search of the inane, uninformed, absurd or outright unintelligible. Taking pot shots at telecasters has become a pastime all its own.

However, as their well-exercised vocal chords have propelled them to ever greater fame – Joe Buck is as easily recognizable to NFL and MLB fans as practically any player – the level of our criticism hasn’t risen alongside them. We laugh at their stumbles, but don’t often consider the individual styles and approaches they bring to the games they cover. They are, if not culturally significant, at the very least ubiquitous, and therefore merit further consideration. So let’s consider them: their philosophy of the game, their rhetorical style, even the timbre of their voice.

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It’s not clear exactly when photographer Mike Ehrmann snapped this photograph of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. We know it was taken Tuesday night, sometime during the Spurs loss to the Miami Heat, but it’s unclear during what quarter it was taken, much less what specific play prompted such a sullen reaction from the incessantly cheery Popovich. There’s a temptation to assume it came during the 3rd quarter, during which the Heat outscored the Spurs 39-14, but it’s entirely believable that a minor error during a more competitive period of the game would elicit a similar reaction from Coach Pop.

Photographing a coach is wholly unlike photographing a player. Like the man himself, photographs of the coach are more divorced from the action. Although this photograph is uniquely unspecific — without the date or caption provided by Getty, it’s unclear if the Spurs are even playing at home or away — most any photograph of a coach will offer few hints as to what was going on elsewhere on the court when the photograph was taken. Of the cast of characters populating these nightly dramas, coaches can be some of the most expressive — in some sense the coaches are the only ones whose articulated task is to express themselves — and yet why they look anguished or angry or overjoyed is often uncertain.

In this instance, Ehrmann has captured a rather poignant moment. Popovich is being very expressive but he is not expressing himself. His gesture and gaze are turned inward. It’s not clear whether he’s deep in thought or merely taking a moment to manage the emotional fallout of an especially erratic performance by his team. Either way, what he’s not doing is actively trying to communicate anything to his players or assistants. (Although given what a respected coach he is, a frustrated sigh may be all he needs to get his point across at times.) He’s not calling a play, offering words of encouragement or pointing out an error. If anything, the photo gives the false impression that he’s not even watching the game.

The photographer is tapping into something very distinct and powerful about photography: It’s a more effective medium for capturing the pain of loss than joy.

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Graydon Gordian has been reading a lot of photo criticism and theory lately, so he thought it’d be interesting to break down noteworthy NBA photos from time to time. We agree. It’s called NBA Photography 101.

In some very basic sense, this photograph is a remarkable achievement, both technologically and artistically. Except for LeBron James’ right hand, which is slightly out of focus, the camera has managed to capture a highly dynamic, split-second occurrence with the clarity of a posed photograph. That may seem unremarkable, but plenty of people can remember a day when such a physically dynamic moment could not be captured so crisply.

It’s also a well-framed photo given photographer Ezra Shaw’s constraints. His subjects are all in nearly constant motion, yet he manages to place both James and David Lee in a position where the eye naturally moves back and forth between the two.

Honestly the photo could be largely blurry and poorly framed, but if it managed to cleanly record the facial expressions of James and Lee, it’d be worth saving. Physically, their faces are surprisingly similar — mouths open, jaws tight, eyebrows crinkled. But context suggests their respective reactions to what has just occurred are rather different: James has an air of unbridled enthusiasm mixed with slightly self-conscious pomposity; Lee betrays the particular kind of astonishment we feel when caught off guard by something we should have anticipated. There’s also a hint of frustration in his eyes.

If their facial expressions are the most remarkable element of the photo — and they are — it’s worth asking whether or not we should even really credit the photographer. Were this a photo shoot, one might give the photographer credit for his or her editorial direction. (Picture Annie Leibovitz asking James to “look fierce.”) And it’s not like that distinct combination of patience and intuition with which the most brilliant photographers are blessed led Shaw to stumble upon James in a private moment of high emotion as no NBA player may be more uninterruptedly conscious of the fact that he’s being observed than LeBron James.

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