“The Cathedral of Basketball.”

“The Cathedral of Basketball.”

I have a confession to make. Growing up, the lure of basketball somehow escaped me. As a Pittsburgh kid, I played and watched football and baseball.  But it’s true. For all I cared, Dr. J might as well have been Dr. No. 

But all that changed when my son began playing Little League basketball and, like any dutiful dad, I wanted to be supportive. I started attending his games and practices. At around the same time, Allen Iverson started playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. Watching Iverson (and my son) was undeniably exciting – and it turned me into a fan.

If the Medicis had built a basketball arena during the Italian Renaissance, it might have looked like this.

If the Medicis had built a basketball arena during the Italian Renaissance, it might have looked like this.

Which brings me to the Palestra.  Situated on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, it is, by all standards, the greatest venue on earth in which to experience basketball. Note that I said “experience” and not “watch.”  Basketball played anywhere else is just a game. At the Palestra, it’s a celebration.

With a capacity of just under 9,000, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

With a capacity of just under 9,000, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The Palestra has hosted more fans at more games over more seasons than any other college arena in history.  Which is all the more amazing when you consider that it was built to seat only 9,000 people, has undergone only minor renovations since it opened in 1927, and remains, for all intents and purposes, just a big gym. But what a beloved big gym. 

It’s known the world over as “The Cathedral of Basketball.”

So you can imagine my glee when I got the assignment to photograph the Palestra for a story to run in the Pennsylvania Gazette commemorating its 90th anniversary. 

Fans have witnessed some of the greatest moments in men’s and women’s basketball from these seats.

Fans have witnessed some of the greatest moments in men’s and women’s basketball from these seats.

Part of capturing the vibe of any place is spending time walking and looking, sizing up the space and the light, figuring out where to put the camera and when. The editorial staff decided to have me shoot during the day with the arena empty, but set up for a full court game. I used timing and the illumination of the natural light to my advantage.

For the widest views, I used a very wide angle architectural shift lens, the Canon 17mm. In post-production we stitched together two frames in order to create an even wider view.

Sitting on the wooden bleachers is a key element of attending a game at the Palestra, so I chose to feature the simple seating in some of my detail shots.

The people’s palace.  No skyboxes, but plenty of flat wooden bleachers.

The people’s palace.  No skyboxes, but plenty of flat wooden bleachers.

The venue’s history is celebrated along its concourse.  As a high schooler, Wilt Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia city championship at the Palestra.  He was 6’ 8” by the 8th grade.

The venue’s history is celebrated along its concourse.  As a high schooler, Wilt Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia city championship at the Palestra.  He was 6’ 8” by the 8th grade.

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