The tragic and fatal helicopter crash involving NBA icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven other victims has everyone reflecting on his incredible 20-year career. The sports world is on some serious Pete Rock & CL Smooth “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” vibe.
Back in 2015, The Shadow League caught up with the legendary, Brooklyn-born sports photographer, Andrew D. Bernstein, who had ventured into books after 40 years of preserving and capturing every famous sports photo that is embedded in our minds.
Meet the man responsible for capturing all of those classic NBA images indelibly lodged in your memory.
After accumulating over 14,000 photos of Kobe Bryant, from capturing The Black Mamba’s first media day with the Lakers in 1996 to his 60-point exit explosion in his final game against the Utah Jazz, Bernstein has teamed with Kobe for a book titled The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. The book follows Kobe’s journey from his early years as a rookie with the Lakers to his last season.
There are few people in media who know more about Kobe Bryant than Andy.
“First time I met Kobe…He was a fresh-eyed rookie and I basically took his first pro photo as a Laker, which was his headshot, ” Bernstein told TSL in an exclusive interview, shortly after Kobe’s epic retirement game in 2016.
By now, everyone knows how the initial conversation unfolded when Bernstein approached Baby Mamba to introduce himself before taking Bryant’s very first official picture:
“Hi, Kobe. I’m Andy Bernstein, the Lakers team photographer.”
Bernstein extended his hand…and the initial handshake did not end at the usual time.
Looking at him and holding on to let the connection linger, Bryant said: “Oh, I know who you are.”
“You do? How do you know who I am?” Bernstein asked. “We’ve never met.”
“I had your posters in my room when I was growing up.”
That was back in 1996, Kobe’s rookie season. Andy’s been along for Kobe’s entire mythical ride with LA.
Award-winning NBA photographer Andrew D. Bernstein reflects on being a part of Kobe Bryant’s legendary career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Mamba Mentality offers readers an exclusive, inside look at the level of mental and physical preparation and the detailed approach it takes to excel at the game from Kobe’s perspective, in his own words (and in his own handwriting) with incredible, stunning and rare visuals by Andy over a 20-year period.
Bernstein is the Director of Photography for the Staples Center and Nokia Live. He’s also the official photographer for the LA Lakers, Clippers, and Kings. Not to mention, he is the longest-tenured photographer in the NBA. Bernstein is considered the Godfather of NBA photojournalism, the fly on the wall in the Lakers locker room and the league’s ultimate eye in the sky.
He’s also a 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, winning The Curt Gowdy Media Award, which is presented annually to members of electronic and print media who have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball. Bernstein is the first NBA photographer to receive this prestigious award and only the second photographer in the Basketball Hall of Fame’s history (Rich Clarkson, 2015) to receive print media recognition.
This week, we travel to Springfield, Massachusetts to celebrate Andrew Bernstein’s Curt Gowdy Print Media award at the 2018 NBA Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s all right here on this week’s episode of Legends of Sport. (📸 @adbphotoinc)
We spoke to Bernstein about his HOF induction, his new book with Kobe, the arrival of LeBron and the next phase of his illustrious career which includes a new podcast called Legends of The Sport.
Andrew D. Bernstein: “Life hasn’t changed really at all. Actually, I’m working harder this year than I have in a while because of this LeBron situation and the book coming out… there’s a lot happening.
As far as the HOF ceremony is concerned, the experience was surreal. I went to college at UMASS, which is 15 minutes from Springfield, Massachusetts where the Hall of Fame is located. To go back to Springfield to the area where my first basketball pictures were published 40 years ago was pretty incredible. To see all my NBA family and friends and journalists, I was able to take it in and understand this didn’t happen by chance. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into getting to this point.”
TSL: List three things you’ve learned about Kobe Bryant from collaborating on The Mamba Mentality book.
AB: 1. “I knew he was obsessed and knew he took his craft and profession seriously but I didn’t realize it was a legion of such emergence on so many levels–mentally, physically. It was his preparation and how he was relentless in staying at that level that made him that iconic athlete that he was. When he had the horrible Achilles injury that late in his career…most guys might have hung it up with five rings, a couple of gold medals and an MVP. Not Kobe. He made it very clear to everyone that the injury wasn’t going to define when he was going to walk off the court. His commitment to going back was unbelievable.”
2. “I didn’t know he studied my photos as a kid and as a player. I knew he liked my photos and had my posters growing up — but the fact that he actually studied them and broke them down and analyzed them like research — studying photos of Magic and Bird and Jordan is very much news to me.”
3. “I never knew that the guy took tap dancing lessons, which he reveals in the book. It’s because he messed up his ankle really badly in the 2000 finals and had zero mobility in his ankle but didn’t want the injury to sideline him more than it had too. He found that tap dancing helped get the dexterity and mobility back in his ankle and that was really surprising to me.”
TSL: How different were the experiences working with Phil and then Kobe?
AB: “The experience was similar. To collaborate with an athlete or coach at that level as a photographer is such a gift. I earned a lot of trust with both Phil and Kobe over the years so that when it came down to suggesting to them that we do the book, they embraced the idea and wanted to work with me. It was flattering and also a challenge and an honor.
Their mindset and approach to life and being winners is different, different paths but leading to the same place. That’s what made the marriage between Shaq, Kobe and Phil so unique and also so deadly is because they were winners more than anything. And when I say deadly I mean second to none, taking these talents and melting them together regardless of their strengths weaknesses. The fact that hey knew they need each other to win carried them through”
TSL: Discuss the evolution of Kobe Bryant.
AB: “His evolution… from an 18-year-old rookie, a teenage kid to becoming an NBA professional and veteran, a three-time champion with Shaq. Then when Shaq left he became the leader of the team. The 2009 and 2010 championships were a testament to his growth as a person and maturity as a leader on the court. He literally took those two teams on his back and won.
Then at end of his career, he became a revered mentor and an example to younger players, before becoming a multi-faceted business icon. I’ve seen him take guys under his wing and teach them things on the court during practice. It was a wonderful evolution witnessed over a 20-year career.”
TSL: LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant.
AB: “LeBron James and Kobe are very similar in terms of their paths. Lebron also did not go to college and came in as an 18-year-old rookie with a lot of hype. A lot more was expected of LeBron Day 1 than Kobe. Kobe was brought along much slower by Del Harris and the Lakers in the first couple of years, but Bron was thrown right into the fire.
Lebron and Kobe are both immortal. Top 10 all-time players and have achieved a level of greatness very few have achieved in any sport. There’s a lot of pressure on LeBron to do it now on the Lakers. He’s in his 16th season and he’s like a freak of nature to be able to still play at this level, but fans want him to hang a banner tomorow and that’s not going to happen. Stay tuned it’s a very long season.”
TSL: How come some Lakers fans were so resistant to LeBron coming to LA?
AB: “It’s really mind-blowing, the amount of love and support Kobe still has. My opinion is that memory and love for him and everything he accomplished and gave to the team and city is still very fresh and I think some people resented the Lakers for putting him on the back burner by bringing the new guy in — LeBron. It’s understandable and speaks to Kobe Bryant, who people loved and worshipped as a player and a lot of it has to do with what he gave to the people, to the city. He’s still present at baseball games and basketball games and doing things in the community. He’s won an Oscar for god’s sake.
TSL: Most memorable photo of Kobe taken?
AB: “During 2009-10 season when I did my last book with Phil, I was embedded with the Lakers during that season and we had ended up in New York after a back to back with Cleveland the night before”.
“Kobe was super beaten up, his ankles were a mess, he had a broken finger and I’m sure you know this picture, but he’s just sitting there at his locker, it’s about an hour and a half before game time and he’s in a deep meditative state just willing himself to play. A lot of guys probably would have taken that night off, but it’s Kobe. It’s Madison Square Garden and it was nationally televised. He wasn’t going to take the night off. That speaks so much to his process. He didn’t really give a lot of thought to what others expected. It was what he expected of himself, which was a lot.”
“As a photographer that picture speaks to how much trust I had with Kobe and Phil and the team for allowing me into the deep reaches of the locker room.”