Rick Madonik: 'One of the best sports photos of all time'

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) watches from the corner as Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) squats down and sticks out his tongue waiting for the ball to drop for Raptors to win. Toronto Raptors vs Philadelphia 76ers in2nd half action of Round 2, Game 7 of NBA playoff play at Scotiabank Arena. Toronto Star/Rick Madonik (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“When it comes to the NBA play-offs we, the local photographers, lose our regular court positions because more TV cameras come in and the wire agencies take the prime positions," says Rick Madonik, a photographer for the Toronto Star.

“In a way, the locals get put to the back benches. So one of the different areas available to us is in the media gondola which hangs off the roof of the Scotiabank Arena. It is at least 200 feet up, with a 45-degree angle looking down using a long lens.

"I had not been feeling well before the game so I let one of my colleagues work the court and I took the high position. Generally, we don’t count on that for great pictures given the angles and the lighting.

“When Kawhi Leonard drifted into the corner I just kept following him but, to be honest, I presumed we would be going to overtime. Once he got off his shot I opted to just stay on the faces of Leonard, Joel Embiid and Jordan Loyd. It was surreal. I had no idea what was happening with the ball as my focus was just on those three.

"Finally, their reaction arrived, confirming that the shot had dropped, but it was the longest wait I ever had at any sporting event for such a moment.

Then it just went crazy. What was great was that they didn’t move from the corner and I had a clean shot so I just kept firing and firing.

"I knew pretty much immediately that it was something special. A few minutes afterward I sent the sports editor the pictures with a note: ‘The jubo (jubilation) is great’. The focus was bang on and you had three different emotions from three different guys following the same moment. I wasn’t actually showing the moment, so it kind of makes it a little bit more mysterious.

“The reaction since? It has been nuts - and surreal. I’m 59 and how things take off on social media still freaks me out (Sports Illustrated tweeted the image with a caption: ‘What an absolutely incredible photo’ while Don Van Natta Jr, of ESPN called it “one of the best sports photos of all time.”)

“Once those tweets went out it just took on a life of its own. My only fear is that if the Raptors don’t go on and win everything then this picture will not stand the test of time. I’m usually hard to please, but even I must admit this was a great one.”

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