First published in the Sept. 30 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Give Andrew Bernstein credit for patience.
The local resident and noted sports photographer waited more than a year and a half to make good on his commitment to speak to the San Marino City Club, and last week there he was, keynoting the group’s first in-person meeting since February 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic scrubbed Bernstein’s original appearance, which was slated for March 17, 2020. His eventual presentation was well worth the wait.
It seemed as though Bernstein had waited just to fire his opening quip, aimed at club President Kelly Ryan, a longtime friend.
“Do I have to call you President Ryan?” Bernstein said, eliciting widespread laughter.
“Shelley does,” Ryan retorted. “Actually, I call her President Ryan.” More laughter followed, since club members were well aware that Kelly Ryan’s wife, Shelley, is president of the local school board.
If there’s a speaker who needs no other material besides his own, it’s Bernstein, director of photography for Staples Center and Microsoft Theater. Andrew D. Bernstein Associates Photography Inc. has been responsible for photography of all events at the L.A. Live complex since its inception in 1999.
He is the key photographic contributor to NBA Entertainment’s global media platforms, which include NBA.com, all league publications and NBA licensed products.
He has been the team photographer for 10 professional Los Angeles franchises that won championships in basketball (Lakers in 1985, 1987-1988, 2000-2002, 2009-2010), baseball (Dodgers in 1988) and hockey (Kings in 2012 and 2014). Bernstein has covered 38 NBA Finals and all-star games as the senior NBA photographer.
In 2018, Bernstein collaborated with Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion who died last year, on the worldwide bestselling book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” a unique look at Bryant’s 20-year career through Bernstein’s lens.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame named Bernstein a 2018 Curt Gowdy Award recipient, acknowledging his contributions to basketball media. This prestigious award is presented annually to members of the electronic and print media whose longtime efforts have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball. Bernstein is the second photographer to receive this honor.
Appropriately, Bernstein’s presentation was titled “My Life in Sports Photography,” a topic he quickly addressed with immediately recognizable images he projected on a screen.
He matter-of-factly mentioned that he spent seven weeks in Barcelona, Spain, embedded with “the Dream Team,” possibly the most familiar basketball squad ever assembled and a gold-medal winner at the 1992 Olympics.
“I was there for all six of Michael Jordan’s [NBA] championships,” he said, as images flashed on the screen at the San Marino Center.
He stopped at a photograph of Bryant and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, with whom Bryant once famously feuded.
“Kelly will tell you that this is the only one of my photos that actually hangs in my home,” Bernstein explained, as the room fell completely silent. “I would keep this there to show my children that ‘if these two can get along, all of us in this house can get along, too.”
He paused at a shot of the Los Angeles Kings finally winning a Stanley Cup.
“I can look at the faces in this photo and recognize people I knew when the Kings were back at the Forum” many years earlier, he said.
He showed a unique angle of Kirk Gibson’s iconic home run that launched the Los Angeles Dodgers to victory in the 1988 World Series.
“I thought the stadium was going to crack in half,” Bernstein said.
And then it was back to Bryant, whom Bernstein met when the NBA prodigy was just 17.
“When I met Kobe, he actually said to me, ‘I know who you are.’” Bernstein said. “I asked him how, and he said he had seen my name on the bottom of several posters he had in his bedroom. I took his rookie head shot and I also took the photo of him walking off the floor after his last game as a Laker when he scored 60 points,” he added as he switched to the iconic image that is now a wall mural near Bernstein’s South Pasadena office.
Bernstein mentioned how he approached Bryant during the player’s final NBA season in 2016 and inquired about a book project that would make use of some of Bernstein’s previously unseen photographs. The result is “The Mamba Mentality.”
“He was intent on making sure that nobody told his story for him,” said Bernstein of Bryant, who died in a tragic helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. “Every word in the book was his and every photo was mine.”
Bernstein then explained the four pillars of the Mamba Mentality: obsession, curiosity, relentless pursuit and strength.
As for that lest tenet, Bernstein said he saw an example of Bryant’s strength when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a game but shot two free throws before walking off the court.
Bernstein’s career has recently taken a new development. At the insistence of a friend, he is the host of a podcast, “Legends of Sport,” that has taken him “from behind the camera to behind the microphone,” in his words.
Bernstein said that he still carries the intent of the Bryant’s notions forward in all that he does.
“Part of the Mamba Mentality is trying to empower the younger generation to go from good to great,” Bernstein explained. “And Kobe did that. He became a veteran and a leader. I encourage everybody, myself included, to encourage leaders, to pay it forward. Our lasting legacy is to go from good to great.”
Before capping his presentation, Bernstein mentioned that he has recently partnered with Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, to document the more than 600 murals that have been created to memorialize the basketball star and his daughter Gianna, who also perished in the accident.
Vanessa Bryant, Bernstein said, epitomized her late husband’s strength when she spoke at Kobe’s memorial service.