What it’s like to photograph the Warriors playoffs

Scott Strazzante recalls arriving on his first Golden State Warriors media day in 2014, joining The Chronicle as a photographer after covering three Michael Jordan-era Bulls championships for the Chicago Tribune.

The Warriors had just lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs — a rare playoff bid for a team that hadn’t played in an NBA Finals in nearly 40 years.

“I had no idea who these people were,” Strazzante said. “Klay Thompson? Draymond Green? No idea. … As a Chicago resident, I never watched Golden State Warriors basketball.

It was the start of a historic run for the Warriors: The 2014-15 season would end in the first of four championships in the Thompson/Green/Stephen Curry era. And it was an incredible run for The Chronicle’s Warriors photographers, including Strazzante and Carlos Avila Gonzalez, who have covered nearly every playoff since, including the current Western Conference Semifinals battle with the Los Lakers. Angeles (see Strazzante’s photo from Game 1 above).

Chronicles photographer Carlos Avila Gonzalez set up a camera above the rim to capture this reaction from Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) after being fouled by the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Finals of the Western Conference at Oracle Arena on May 20, 2018.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle

I had Strazzante and Gonzalez on the Total SF podcast a few years ago, and it was one of my favorite episodes because I learned so much about two people I thought I already knew. A highlight: Gonzalez and Strazzante comparing the injuries they suffered from stray balls and falling players, recalling that scene in “Jaws” where Hooper and Quint start talking about shark scars.

“Just watching Vlade Divac almost fall on you is like watching a redwood tree fall,” Gonzalez said, recalling a Sacramento Kings playoff run in the early 2000s. “It was pretty terrifying. ”

Strazzante and Gonzalez captured some of the most iconic photos in recent Warriors history, be it Strazzante’s picture worthy of a meme 2018 of a jumper Draymond Green, or Gonzalez setting up remote cameras to let us see Steph Curry from a divine perspective.

(Check out some of the best photography from the 2023 playoffs of Strazzante, Gonzalez, Stephen Lam and Santiago Mejia in this visual essay.)

LeBron James and Kevon Looney can't quite get to that loose ball on Tuesday, as the ball flies past Chronicle photographer Scott Strazzante.

LeBron James and Kevon Looney can’t quite get to that loose ball on Tuesday, as the ball flies past Chronicle photographer Scott Strazzante.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

Strazzante and Gonzalez have seen both workplace culture and technology change over the past decade, for better and for worse. At the 1996, 1997 and 1998 Chicago Bulls championships, Strazzante said photographers were “throat-throwing”, fist-fighting to block their positions and shutting competitors out of the darkroom after the game.

Now it’s much more civilized. In recent years, paint has been added to the terrain to create squares reserved for the work of photographers, and new technologies allow Strazzante and Gonzalez to share photos practically in real time (without venturing near a bedroom). black).

Playoff games have developed a particular urgency for photographers, when one moment – ​​like Draymond stepping on Domantas Sabonis of the Kings – can carry on a conversation for days.

“If you don’t have a picture of this important piece,” Strazzante said, “you might as well stay home.”

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