MSG Photographer Shares Stories Behind Michael Jordan’s Shots
Growing up on Long Island, George Kalinsky always wanted to be Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays or Harlem Globetrotter Marques Haynes. Instead, he went to art school and became the official photographer of Madison Square Garden in 1966 – a job he still holds today – capturing some of history’s most legendary moments. sports and entertainment.
(Kalinsky was out last season due to the risk of COVID-19, but he shot a playoff game. And he plans to return to photograph the Knicks this season.)
Ironically, the 85-year-old’s camera and artwork got him recognized alongside some of his heroes. This weekend, Kalinsky will be honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame by receiving the Curt Gowdy Media Award.
When Hall of Fame President John Doleva called the Upper East Side to break the news, Kalinsky called it a “powerful” moment. “I couldn’t believe him when he said I was going to be enshrined there. I came back to when I was playing in the schoolyard. I never thought I would be in the Hall of Fame, but I did as an artist, ”he told The Post.
Here, the legendary lens shares the stories behind his most iconic shots of the hoop universe.
The making of “Clyde” Frazier
Basketball fans know Walt “Clyde” Frazier for his flashy costumes and outgoing personality. When Kalinsky met him, he was a baseball player trying to come out of his shell. “He came over one day and said, ‘We have to find something where I have an alter ego. I get really nervous when I find myself in a big crowd, ”recalls Kalinsky.
One day Frazier wore a green hat, a green suit, and green alligator boots. Kalinsky thought he looked neat and painted his portrait. The Knick then started showing up at Madison Square Garden in flamboyant clothes, prompting the team’s coach to say he was like Clyde from “Bonnie and Clyde” – and the character got stuck. This later snapshot, taken in 1969, was Walt’s first as “Clyde,” with the baseball player wearing a belt sporting his new nickname.
“He always says ‘George made me’, but the pieces fit together perfectly,” Kalinsky said. “The Knicks started winning and magazines started asking me for pictures of him. I feel really lucky to have been part of this team.
Willis Reed’s Sand Walk
In Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knick Willis Reed tore a muscle in his thigh and was forced to sit in Game 6, leaving fans – and Lakers players – with a big question: Would Reed play in Game 7?
During a lunch at Horn & Hardart in Penn Station, Kalinksy told his friend he could be injured for life if he made it to court. “He said to me, ‘You know, George, if I have one chance in my life to win a championship, then I’m going to take it. Even though I have to crawl across the field on all fours, I have to play. Kalinsky followed him as he limped over the hardwood and the moment, thanks to Reed’s grain and Kalinksy’s eye, would be woven into both NBA and MSG lore.
“It was the most electric Madison Square Garden I have ever seen. It was the most amazing sound, ”said Kalinsky, noting that Reed made the first two baskets, thus setting the tone for the whole game. “Basically, walking there, he inspired the Knicks to win that game and their first championship.”
Bill Russell’s art in motion
In February 1968, the Boston Celtics faced the Detroit Pistons in a doubles program in Game 1 of the all-new Madison Square Garden. Of course, it was a landmark evening in the history of the building, but it was the form and athleticism of Celtic Bill Russell, as well as the perfect timing on the part of the photographer, that made this outing so special.
“You can’t believe his foot could be that high. Its construction looks so perfect. There is a beauty in the way he plays and a beauty in his athleticism, ”said Kalinsky.
Kalinsky said the image was Russell’s favorite photo of himself. About 10 years ago, the NBA made him a doll and he insisted that the photo be used as inspiration.
“It’s also my favorite basketball photo I’ve ever taken,” said Kalinsky, who has the photo on the wall in his apartment. He would also like to see the photo, which celebrates movement and the human form, in another medium. “I think it would be a beautiful sculpture. I got to see this at the Museum of Modern Art.
Last call for Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain and Kalinsky had a friendship that stretched back to the Kutsher Hotel in the Catskills, where Chamberlain was known to be a bellboy – and their relationship would continue as the 7-foot-1 center dominated in the league.
When the Knicks defeated the Chamberlain Lakers in the 1973 Championship, Kalinsky filmed the celebration in the New York locker room. But then he went to see his old boyfriend. “I also always go to the losers’ locker room, because sometimes there is more emotion there. I think Wilt was glad I was there. I felt he needed support and, with the friendship we had, I owed him.
Kalinsky’s photo would be even more impactful than he could have imagined. It would be the last time the legendary rebounder would take off his NBA uniform. Although he was courted by other teams, he retired after the season to pursue other interests.
“Like many photos, I didn’t realize the real parts of it until a few years later, and you realize how important that moment was.”
The sartorial confrontation
In February 1985, St. John’s placed first on a 13-game winning streak. And coach Lou Carnesecca wore an “ugly” brown sweater with a herringbone pattern that became his lucky charm. When they faced their nemesis Georgetown, coach John Thompson approached Carnesecca and opened his jacket to reveal the same sweater. It was a moment of humor and humanity in the long-simmering rivalry between the institutions of the Grand Orient.
“I was trying to capture Louie in that sweater for weeks. It was a big deal. Thompson put on such a good press stunt, ”Kalinksy said. The sartorial showdown, which Georgetown No.2 won hands down, has come to be known as the “Sweater Game” as an iconic part of college hoop history. Kalinsky had another reason to love the photo.
“As a photographer, this photo is important to me because my best friend [St. John’s team] Dr. Irving Glick was right in the middle of it all.
it must be the shoes
“Luck has been very good for me. I find myself in the right place on so many occasions, I just don’t understand it, ”said Kalinksy.
For example, he was at the 1985 slam-dunk contest in Indianapolis when a rookie named Michael Jordan took the stage with a game-changing pair of shoes on and off the field.
“I believe it was the first time he was pictured in Air Jordans,” Kalinsky said. “Nike was pushing this new concept of designer sneakers, and it was very important to show them fully. “
When Jordan first retired in 1993, Newsweek reprinted the photo, and it was used frequently by Nike as well. While Kalinksy made the money, he said it was never about the dough.
“It was special because it made a mark,” he said of the photography.