The funny thing is, from where I was sitting I couldn’t really see much of the game.
Inside the NBA’s bubble arena, there are three media seating areas — one in the corner, where most people sit, and three seats on each baseline, close to the team’s benches.
You have to get there early to snag one of those — I was on the 6 p.m. ET bus Friday for Game 5 — and when I walked into the building, there was just one seat left on the Lakers’ side. But that seat, while closest to the bench, probably has the worst view in the building.
The basket stanchion blocks half the court like a shutdown cornerback. And then there’s the lone cameraman, sitting in a chair right in front of all the action.
But I like to hear what players and coaches on the benches are saying (turns out, they drop a lot of F-bombs), so I was happy with the seat even though I couldn’t see a bunch of the action.
For whatever reason, though, the area right in front of me Friday was a hot spot. By now, you might’ve seen the Jimmy Butler photo I took (reproduced above; more on that), but there were three other times when the game’s most dramatic moments happened right in front of me.
First, there was a clash between Butler and Dwight Howard in the first quarter, which was directly to my left. I grabbed my phone to get a quick shot. But what I got made it look more like a Miami Heat huddle than anything else.
That video board that Butler would slump over? That’s also right where Anthony Davis dramatically fell to the court after reinjuring his heel. All the Lakers' key personnel came over to check on him, including general manager Rob Pelinka. I tried to get a shot that showed how concerned everyone was.
Instead, all you could see were the camera people in front of me and this incredibly bright yellow light shining directly into the camera. Oh, and the barrier completely blocked Davis. The Lakers could’ve been looking at an alligator that crawled onto the court. There’s no way to tell.
In the third quarter, I should’ve been in great position to capture Howard smacking Butler in the head, but the basket and the camera were totally in the way. The best I could do is get Butler on the ground, grabbing at his neck.
But the better picture might’ve been the six Lakers who surrounded ref Marc Davis to argue the call. Missed that too.
Finally, some good luck.
In the fourth quarter, Butler drew a foul and just kind of slowly stumbled over to the barrier. As he put his head down, I could hear teammate Duncan Robinson calmly tell Butler to take his time. Rest.
By then, everyone in the building knew what was happening — that Butler was carrying Miami and it was exhausting for him.
I pulled out my phone and took one picture and right away I knew it was a special image, the thing that captured the night as good as any words would.
I tweeted it with a one-word caption: “Monster.”
If Butler said anything back to Robinson, it was a whisper. He looked so tired that the Heat had to call a timeout to get him a few more minutes.
It worked. He made the free throws, the Heat won the game, and my iPhone took a photo I’ll always remember.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.