Best Seat in the House
Anyone who has been to an Oklahoma City Thunder game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena can attest to the raucous atmosphere created by 17,000 of the NBA’s most energetic fans. A 2010 playoff game between the Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers generated a decibel level of 109. That was the highest ever recorded at an NBA game and serves as a testament to the chaotic environment created by the league’s most fervent fans.
Most Thunder fans never get to experience the rush of being on-court during the team’s most electrifying moments. Local photographer Richard Rowe is one of the lucky few with the privilege of sharing the court with some of the world’s most gifted athletes. Rowe has been photographing the team since its 2008 arrival in Oklahoma City and has been up close for some of the young franchise’s most memorable moments.
An Unlikely Calling
Rowe‘s interest in photography began during his freshman year of high school when he enrolled in photography as an elective. He credits his teacher, Doug Leash, with nurturing an interest in photography as a form of art. “He was my greatest inspiration,” Rowe says. Although born in Oklahoma, Rowe grew up in The Dalles, Oregon, and did not have an interest in professional basketball. As an adult, he took a trip back to the state to visit his father; it was then that Rowe met his now-wife, Angela, and rediscovered his love of the Sooner State.
“I became interested in digital photography after moving back to Oklahoma.” Rowe said. “I started photographing the Oklahoma City Blazers, then the Dallas Stars.” The New Orleans Hornets relocated to Oklahoma City following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and Rowe was introduced to New Orleans’ General Manager through a mutual friend. “I asked if I could photograph a game and I was hooked,” Rowe adds. “I photographed the Hornets for two years, then the Thunder once they came to OKC. I have been there since day one.”
Front and Center
As a courtside photographer, Rowe has been front and center for some of the most exciting plays in Thunder history. One day in particular came to mind when asked about his personal favorite. “Russell Westbrook hit a game-winning shot, the crowd went insane, and a fan gave him a huge bear hug on the sideline.”
The photo captures so much about what makes the Thunder important to the state. The angle of the photo allows the viewer to see Westbrook’s reaction alongside those of the fans in the immediate vicinity, framed by the boisterous reaction of the larger crowd in the background. Westbrook’s face in the picture is a mix of self-satisfaction, triumph and confidence. The fan hugging Westbrook looks as though he is trying to channel the NBA star’s other-worldly athletic ability and make it his own. Rowe’s expert eye gives a front-row view of the raw energy professional sports provide and allows you to share in a moment that captures so much of what Thunder fans have come to love about the team.
Although he is obviously skilled at the trade, sports photography is not Rowe’s full-time career. He is Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for ZZW Global, Inc., a local oil and gas exploration company, so he gets to indulge his inner fan and passion for photography on the baseline of Thunder games. Being a sports photographer is not without its obstacles, either. “I’m constantly thinking of new ways to challenge myself,” Rowe says. “People only notice photographs from angles they haven’t seen.”
Rowe sees Russell Westbrook as the Thunder’s most photogenic player. He is a photographer’s dream specimen. “He has so much energy and character. He is a sports photographers’ dream come true.” He’s quick to add that the rest of the team is easy on the camera, as well. “No one takes a bad picture.” Rowe’s wife Angela is a photographer, as well, and helps edit his work. “She does all the behind the scenes work that makes my photographs look good.”
Rowe has found a unique way to translate a passion into a profession. By capturing some of the most iconic moments in the Thunder’s young history, he has allowed thousands of fans to relive some of their favorite memories. His work perfectly encapsulates the energy of the franchise—and a city—with limitless potential.
View more of Richard Rowe’s work at taosactionphotos.com.