This past weekend I had the chance to photograph Vince Young’s annual celebrity basketball game here in Houston at Butler Sports Complex, a familiar spot for the native Houstonian.
Vince Young is well known in Houston as he drew a lot of attention as a high school prospect in the area, eventually playing college ball at the University of Texas. After a very successful career as a Longhorn, there was notable controversy during the 2006 NFL draft, when his hometown team, the Houston Texans passed him over for defensive end, Mario Williams. Young was picked 3rd overall by the Tennessee Titans where he plays today.
I have photographed several NFL games over the years, several during Vince’s career with the Titans, however one moment stands out above the rest.
It was December 10th, 2006 and Vince, a rookie at the time, was at the helm of the Titans squad against the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Texans kicker, Kris Brown, tied the game with a 46-yard field goal to force overtime. The Titans won the toss. I was positioned near the end zone with Vince facing me on the other end of the field. It was still early in the overtime period when Vince and the Titans were facing a 3rd-and-14. The Texans had hope. The crowd was on their feet, trying to will their team to the 4th-and-out that would never come. Seconds later I saw Vince running towards me, the ball safely tucked under one arm, his other outstretched in celebration. The 39-yard touchdown run instantly transferred the energy from the fans to the Titans bench and without a moment’s notice I was backed into a corner with a jubilant Vince Young and a stampede of excited Titans barreling towards me.
For those who are unfamiliar with photographing an NFL game, the protocol usually requires at least 2 cameras, 3 if it’s a possibility. The primary camera is outfitted with a long zoom lens with a focal length anywhere between the 300-600mm range. The second camera usually has on a 70-200mm lens which is nice for photographing plays as they come a little bit closer to your position. The third camera body is usually mounted with a wide angle lens. This third camera sits around the neck and is at the ready for fast action. The majority of NFL action images are captured while the play takes place a decent distance away, but the given the unpredictable nature of the game, the third camera is there for times when the play and subsequent action is charging towards your face.
As Vince celebrated his game-winning touchdown (which kept the Titans in the playoff hunt) I put my wide-angle outfitted camera up to my eye and snapped off images as the team rushed over to revel in the moment. In a matter of seconds more photographers, players and other persons joined the scrum, but those initial moments of jubilation were for the most part gone forever.
That game was about 3 and a half years ago and I have photographed Vince with the Titans since then, but that moment is one I will never forget.
Fast forward to this past weekend.
Even though there were several big names in the mix, the event was for the most part low-key, which meant access was excellent. The game was held at an older local high school basketball arena, which was great for ambiance, but made it very difficult to photograph due to very dim lighting conditions. Among the players were; J.R. Smith of the Denver Nuggets, Mr. 720 (famous for his outrageous dunks), Former Longhorn and current offensive guard for the Houston Texas Kasey Studdard, Texans receiver Andre Johnson, former NBA star Nick Van Exel, rapper and entertainment mogul Master P and his son Lil Romeo. The motley crew of different players was fun to watch. Mr. 720 and J.R. Smith were definite front-runners talent-wise, but everyone brought something to the table. It was like watching a very casual all-star game, with very few stoppages in play, lots of fast-break dunks, and a plethora of no-look passes (some successful others not so much).
During the final minutes of the game, the score was close and the mood intensified. Both the crowd and the players seemed to perk up and for the first time pay attention to the time left and the score. There was a few minutes of give and take, but just like that game over 3 years prior, Vince found himself with the ball and and in a position to win the game for his team and win he did. Vince scored the winning points with a classic overhead slam dunk and what happened next was my deja vu moment.
Within seconds of the game-winning dunk I again found myself shoved against the wall next to a jubilant Vince with his teammates running towards us. Again, I lifted my camera and wide-angle lens to my eye and began shooting. The following image is one from the post-game fray. You can see Denver Nuggets guard, J.R. Smith in the background celebrating with the rest of the team.
After the game Master P approached me and let me know that he had to let Vince win on his birthday. So, I guess Vince’s 27th birthday didn’t turn out too bad after all. As I edited the images from this past weekend’s events, I noticed one image from the scrum. I pulled the above image out and compared it with the image of Vince from that overtime game years back. The resemblance was interesting to say the least.