Andrew Bernstein is in his 38th season covering the NBA and is the longest-tenured photographer in the league. During this time, he has covered some of the league's biggest stars and been responsible for some very memorable photos. Bernstein is not slowing down any time soon, but he is not forgetting about the people that helped him along the way.
Speaking with PopCulture in an exclusive interview, Bernstein spoke about his upcoming trip to the Orlando bubble, as well as covering some of the NBA's most celebrated eras. The veteran photographer has witnessed the Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry of the 1980s, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' six title wins, the Detroit Pistons' three title wins of their own and the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers teams of the 2000s. Bernstein admits that choosing a favorite era from his career is not easy, but he does hold a special place for the Lakers featuring Shaquille O'Neal and the late Kobe Bryant.
"That whole sort of 20-year period from '96 to 2016, that was such a special era, the three championships they won together, and then Kobe taking the team on his back and winning two more," Bernstein told PopCulture. "And being with him for 20 years, nothing will ever compare to that." It was during this era that the photographer actually developed a special relationship with the late NBA icon. They even collaborated on Bryant's book, "The Mamba Mentality: How I Play."
"Just so you know, I can't say enough about the gratitude I have towards [Kobe] for allowing me really into his inner circle and his inner sanctum of how he trained and how he prepared," Bernstein told PopCulture. "And it was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience to work with him as a person, not just an athlete, but a person of that quality and that character. I'll always be grateful to him for really seeing something in me that he knew he could trust and knew that he wanted to have me around to document his journey."
Of course, covering the NBA — with an emphasis on Los Angeles teams — led to some iconic photographs. He took several images of Bryant during slam dunks, as well as a jaw-dropping recreation of a reverse windmill by LeBron James. Capturing this moment in history was not a simple task, but Bernstein managed to do so and stirred up social media in the process.
"What we do is a very involved setup of seven or eight remote cameras every single game," Bernstein said. "[...] And this particular angle is an angle that actually I invented. I was able to talk my boss at Staple Center into letting me cut a hole into the bottom of the pad at the basket stanchion and insert a camera inside the hole, which the pad would protect from the players getting hurt. And it creates an amazing wide-angle, sort of symmetrical perspective, and I've gotten some really great results from that over the years.
"And this particular moment, like any other moment where I'm sitting on the other side of the court from the action, from where my remotes are set up, I watched LeBron on this breakaway dunk, waited until I saw him take off towards the basket," Bernstein continued. "And basically about four feet, five feet in front of the basket is where all of these cameras, the focus point, is located. So you imagine in front of the rim about three or four feet or so. And as he elevated, I knew he had the ball down low by his hip, I knew he had to bring the ball up at some point. In that millisecond when he did that, I banged the remote trigger button, and all the remotes went off. And that particular one got the most dramatic of all the shots."
While Bernstein has enjoyed a long and memorable career, becoming the longest-tenured photographer in the NBA was not a simple process. Several people helped him along the way. This includes Terry Lyons and Brian McEntire from the NBA PR Department, Golden State Warriors President Rick Wells, late Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, current owner Jeanie Buss and Steve Grinner, the man who hired Bernstein to photograph the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the biggest name Bernstein listed was the late David Stern, who served as NBA Commissioner from 1984 until 2014.0comments
Bernstein will continue shooting photographs of the NBA's top stars during the playoffs, and he will likely capture more photos of James in action. He will also take time to record some interviews. He is bringing Legends of Sport to the NBA bubble while celebrating a new partnership with the Los Angeles Times to co-produce the podcast. Beginning July 7, the show's third season will be available to download through the L.A. Times App and will continue streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other listening platforms. Previous Legends of Sport seasons are also available on all platforms.
"Hosted by Bernstein, Legends of Sport celebrates legendary athletes, teams, moments and personalities in sports. With 75+ episodes and over 400K downloads, Legends of Sport has welcomed notable guests including Magic Johnson, Tony Hawk, Hope Solo, David Stern, Pau Gasol, Doris Burke, Peter Guber and late basketball icon, Kobe Bryant, who collaborated with Bernstein on the New York Times bestselling book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play in 2018."