Miami Herald Photographer Charlie Trainor was in his regular spot — right on the basketball court, in front of the most expensive seats in the house — lens trained on the first game of the inaugural “Three Kings” Miami Heat season.
It was the Heat against the Boston Celtics, who had just signed Shaquille O’Neal.
“Shaq was backpedaling,” Trainor said. “His heel caught me in the hip and it was like getting hit by a truck.”
One photograph captured Al Diaz, The Herald’s other lead Heat photographer, crouching to get out of the way of Dwyane Wade.
“You have to be smart,” Trainor said. No one wants to get hurt and no one wants to get in the way of the players. “They can twist an ankle and you don’t want it to be because of you.”
It’s a hazard that comes with the assignment, but it also provides a unique and enviable view that often comes through in the pictures.
There is no other sport where a photographer is as close to the fans as to the players, close enough to touch. After covering three seasons, Trainor said he has become friends with one of the regular front-row fans. And at each game, Miami Heat forward James Jones always stop by to shake hands with all of the photographers.
When the Miami Heat opens the playoffs Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the stakes are higher.
“It’s like being in a nightclub every other night,” Trainor said. “You have to be there by 6 p.m. and you don’t get out until 2 a.m. It’s a very exhilarating experience. It is very exhausting but the adrenaline helps you get through it.”
Our coverage plans kick into high gear with the first series of the playoffs, starting with Sunday’s special preview section. The Miami Herald will have more than 10 staffers writing, tweeting, blogging, shooting videos and photos, led by Heat beat reporters Joseph Goodman and Barry Jackson.
Sports columnists Dan Le Batard, Greg Cote, Linda Robertson and Armando Salguero will deliver a steady supply of opinions and perspective. Michelle Kaufman and Manny Navarro will be among several reporters assigned to find the off-beat and behind-the-scenes stories from the games.
Another key part of our plans is a rich social media strategy to deliver photos and videos through Twitter and Facebook, in addition to MiamiHerald.com.
Trainor and Diaz worked with social media editor Luisa Yanez to create a tag-team approach at the arena. The photographers give their photos and video clips to Yanez who then posts them on Twitter and Facebook. And back in the newsroom, online producers display the content on the Herald website.
At each game, Trainor shoots an average of 1,000 frames, making constant technical decisions, such as which lens to use and at what shutter speed. Those decisions have become second nature after 30 years as a photographer.
But he also has to cover the game as a reporter.
“As we’re covering the game, you have to think ‘Who is the story tonight? Who is the high-point shooter?’ ” Trainor said. “You always have to follow the ball.”