There have been many great games I have photographed while covering the Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament during my 25 years working for the Juneau Empire. There are so many buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers and heroic efforts to recall.
I witnessed amazing games from dozens of great players such as Nate Strong, Andy Lee, Bill Lockhart, Tanya Nizich, Jean Jackson and Megan Gleason.
The best game I ever photographed for the Empire, without hesitation, was the Kake Tlingit Heat versus Haines Merchants in the Mighty B Bracket semifinal game on March 26, 2004. Kake won the game 95-93.
It was a game like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight title bout - two mighty warriors fighting to their last breath. It was like the showdown in Iceland between chess masters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky - two intense geniuses patiently setting each other up for the kill.
It was Bird versus Magic.
In that game of the ages, the outcome was in doubt until the final buzzer.
The teams soared like eagles and ravens above the basket.
They fought like angry brown bears and wolverines for the loose balls on the floor.
There were 31 ties or lead changes, five of which occurred in the final minute of that magnificent game. The outcome was in doubt until Stuart DeWitt's3-point shot fell just short for Haines at the buzzer. He made six 3s in the game up until that point.
As the game ended, I took the best photo in my many years of covering Gold Medal. The photo featured the Tlingit Heat's Rudy Bean and Nick Davis leaping for joy. I pointed my camera at the players and got lucky. The photo ended up winning first place for sports photography in the annual Alaska Press Club awards.
After the game, I rushed back to the Juneau Empire to edit and process my photos for a special edition. I saw my lucky shots and a few others, but never looked at my entire take until last week.
I got shivers reliving the game as I looked through the 287 digital images.
Kake went on to win the title as it defeated Hoonah 86-77 in overtime.
The small community of Kake was rocked in January of that year in the aftermath of a boating accident that claimed the lives of three of its citizens. And a leading Kake citizen, Sam Jackson, was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 2004 as well.
"This will help get the community through what's happened this last year," Rudy Bean said of the importance of winning the championship.
Not for money and fame, but for hometown pride.
Brian Wallace, a lifelong Juneau resident, will be covering his 26th Gold Medal for the Juneau Empire this year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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