The ball sails through the air. Your hand suspends time with the perfect follow-through. One beat of your heart. Then two, maybe three…. Brick. Clang. Big nope. The ball yeets off the rim, out of bounds. Ever fish a basketball out of a thicket of blackberry bushes? Yeah. That’s how Rod Thorn got his name.
Weren’t we just DIVINE in our imaginations? I was the craftiest running back, the defensive player of the year on the basketball court, the fastest, most accurate striker on the pitch – and the cleverest keeper. I was Chris Webber, Dwyane Wade, Mario Balotelli, Doug Christie, Frank Gore, Roddy White, and Jo-Willie Tsonga in my prime time imagination. These illusions amounted to delightful fluff, filling the head of a child… Or perhaps, the start of a much more problematic string of grand delusions about my own capabilities. I’d visit each of these star personas in my head when engaging these sports, but they never drove my progress. I simply lacked the abilities and awareness to carry out the athletic visions I had of myself. There was a disconnect between what I could actually do and what I idealized. There’s evidence all over the athletic world – a lack of natural talent can be conquered by hard work – I simply lacked the scope for that when it still mattered.
The fun thing about grand delusions is that we assume the rewards with none of the work. Developing perspective is a fundamental aspect of that work.
The sport I settled on for my own professional pursuits was basketball. After the explosion of the Sacramento Kings into relevancy in the late 90s, my decision was made for me. The team had a soulful play-style. There was intelligence behind it’s design, and the consistent execution attracted me.
In my head, I was a defensive stalwart who could sink an automatic shot from the corner or the elbow. In actuality, my career high in turnovers (13) was higher than my career high in points (12) in my high school days. Will my pride let me continue this story without mentioning that I once had 10 steals in a high school game? Guess not. On top of having very little natural ability to understand the physicality of the sport, I grew an entire two (2) inches during the entirety of my high school career. Couple those… um… abilities… with my health journey, I was called to retire from the dream of professional athletics at a young age.
I remained an engaged participant with the Sacramento Kings and NBA culture in general. In 2011, while studying Linguistics and Film Production at University of California: Santa Cruz, the then-owners of the Sacramento Kings appeared to have settled on relocating the team to the Los Angeles area. In economic terms, decision-makers who were responsible for a multi-million dollar economy wanted to extract that economy from an area that desperately needed it – and move it to an area that desperately didn’t. The community of Sacramento led a charge to keep their beloved team – and now-billion-dollar economy – in place. It truly was an awe-inspiring community effort against different manifestations of well-financed villainry, and one that led me to be truly in love with the culture of Sacramento.
The city took on those millionaires from every angle. The business community united, the city and county governments efficiently took the issue to task after years of red tape, and the people… Oh, the people. Sacramentans from all walks of life came together to fight for their local economy. Everyone knew the stakes, and an entire community came together and created a solution. That solution has sustained my NBA career since it started. I’m blessed to be one beat in Sacramento’s big heart.
After Santa Cruz, I tried Los Angeles life for a time. The politics and dismissive tendencies of people weren’t good for my growth, so I moved to Sacramento in 2013 in an effort to join the same community spirit I witnessed during the fight to keep the Kings. Soon after my move to the valley, I began working with James Ham and Tobin Halsey on a follow-up to Small Market, Big Heart. That 2013-14 season, James asked me to work as a producer and photographer for Cowbell Kingdom. Suddenly, my childhood dream of being in the NBA – a task I truly thought to be impossible – was achieved. Not as a player, but as a piece of it all.
I wasn’t looking for it. I hadn’t expanded my mind. Any structure of art or entertainment that we enjoy, be it athletics, cosmetology, films, painting, music, literature, dance, architecture, printing, crafting, astrology, herbology, taxidermy, etc – there is a way to participate at the level you desire and sustain it. I had to see my dream from an economic perspective. The NBA, the body that is the NBA, is an economic structure built on selling incredible performance in the game of basketball – in all aspects. What attracted you to the NBA? Do you feel your own presence as a part of it? You should. You fill a vital role. Without you, there’s nothing.
The body that is the NBA – the players, coaches, executives, fans, referees, media, merchandisers, marketers, and laborers – is a vast economy with many avenues of participation. A 5’11” kid missing 1.5’ of large intestine (does that make me 3’5”?) with no sentient concept of left and right body unity was never going to play basketball in college, let alone the NBA. I may not have made any high school teams if I didn’t grow up in Foresthill. The feeling I had walking to the court for the first time… My heart ascended to my jaw and stuck, giving my tongue it’s own beat. The crowd noise. The weight of the eyes of 17,000 people (none of whom are looking at me). I’ll never forget that first time.
Headed into the 2014-2015 season, I feared my position was compromised. See, a portion of my ascending colon was attacked by some scar tissue, as if some kind of tiny Spiderman with scar tissue webbing had a function to get to in my jejunum. My colon twisted while I shopped. I didn’t know what happened, but I was facing hyperbolic levels of pain that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I hobbled the two blocks from the Grocery Outlet to my apartment. The twist worsened as the night progressed, so I assumed tiny Spiderman had forgotten something at home – in my heart, where all Marvel heroes live. Emergency services were called, and I had an overnight surgery to remove the twisted bowel obstruction.
Apparently, tiny Spiderman got lit with tiny Venom and tiny Carnage and drunk-scar-webbed my entire abdomen. My surgeon said that it was like removing cobwebs from a garden hose. I was in the hospital for the entire month of October in 2014, waiting for my intestines to start back up. They never quite did, and now I have an invisible disability that can be summarized by the famously tired Bed Stuy euphemism “dead-ass.” Basically, there’s some muscles that are on strike, and I’m doing everything in my power to work out an agreement. It’s been a few years, but we have to maintain belief that it’s possible.
The day after I got out of the hospital, it was the Kings 2014-15 season opener. I went. I photographed the game. I produced the post-game segment. I went home. The feeling I had at that game was pure love. Having spent the previous month grappling with deep thoughts about existence, my mortality, and my identity, I was shrouded in fear for my body and mind. To step out of that vapor into a throb of fans, screaming, music, Slamson, the thudding of basketball on the court, the snap of the net, the squeaks of the shoes sliding against the wood, the patience….. the look in the eyes of the players, the movement, the flash, the click, the dunk, the perfect frame, the pandemonium…
I couldn’t walk. I shouldn’t have been there. That surgery destroyed me. Despite my pain, condition, and mild delirium, it was the environment created by you, the fans, that provided me with the balance and support I needed. It drove my professionalism in that moment, and the games in the months after.
I was given a new level of appreciation for the opportunity to do work I do and how I contribute to the NBA. It feels amazing to add to the NBA economy in such a visual manner. Before the 2015-16 season, I switched affiliates to Sactown Royalty of SB Nation, and after we were all unceremoniously fired after years of unpaid labor for Vox Media, I joined our grassroots team at The Kings Herald. When life throws you a curve, refocus your approach and adapt.
There’s always a chance to capture the flashy play and the best players. I try to highlight the specific stories I see in each game, and I encourage any #Lensface to do the same (that’s my term for people who watch the games through an actual camera – and the title of my infamous social media show). One of my favorite moments was the first time Steph Curry played against little brother Seth Curry in the NBA. The first time they were on the court against each other in an NBA uniform, and the MVP cracked the littlest of smiles.
The best stories with the camera come when you look for the right moments. Many times, it goes beyond what’s happening with the basketball. Look beyond the provided path to your dream if our ancestors asks you to do so, and you’ll live it.
Working at the highest level in sports media in the USA as a producer and photographer has prepared me for challenges I’d normally never expect. It has taught me the importance of patience, silence, and self-worth.
Thank you, as always, for engaging with my words and my mind. If you have any questions, or have any desire to see more of my work, l’ll be ecstatic to hear from you.
Thank you to our amazing staff at The Kings Herald, who often spend a few extra minutes looking through my library to find the right shot for the story – even if it puts me in trouble with some of the more sensitive players!
Please do me a favor and check out #Lensface, a side-show I’ve been producing for Kings fans since Golden 1 Center opened. The story behind this is simple – I didn’t know what the outcome to my health struggle was going to be, and I didn’t want to leave nothing behind from my time in this role. Basically, I thought my health issues were going to kill me on a short schedule, and I didn’t want to leave nothing behind but photos. It’s interesting – I didn’t set out for it to be an anthology of experiences surrounding the Kings over these years, but that’s where it’s at.
While I’m not feeling so morbid about my chances these days, I’m fighting for my health on a daily basis, doing things that are too uncomfortable to describe – let alone read, if it’s not your journey. The ultimate truth is this – I am likely not alive without Sacramento’s brand of community support, and my career would look entirely different without the #HEREWESTAY movement.
From the bottom of my heart (and trash guts), THANK YOU!
#Lensface can be found sprinkled throughout TheKingsHerald.com and at these locations:
1) What was the sport you saw yourself thriving in as a child?
2) Did that come true to your satisfaction?
3) What attracts you to the NBA?
4) Is being a fan of the NBA a fulfilling experience? How involved do you feel with the product?
5) This isn’t a question, but I’m very happy you all exist, and you deserve every bit of success this Kings team can produce during their approaching window of contention.