When I photographed Masai Ujiri last year for TEDxToronto, I had no idea that the Raptors were going to become world champions.
Masai is the President of the Raptors, he is insanely busy, and he probably gets his photo taken weekly if not more. Knowing this, I had to adjust my process.
And when Masai first arrived it was clear that our window to “get the shot” would be short.
He was friendly and attentive, but I could also feel that he was not so thrilled to interrupt his day and take a break for photography.
Things started off stiff and slow, which is almost always the case with every photo session. But the difference was that I did not have warm-up “get to know you” time like I do in most of my portrait sessions. We essentially started the shoot in the 4th quarter with 2 mins left on the clock. Crunch time!
I took a deep breath. Grounded myself. And let my heart lead.
This is when I had two game-changing instincts…
I asked him to pick the music. Suddenly the room was flooded with vibrant tunes from his home country Nigeria.
I looked around the room and found a basketball. I picked it up and tossed it over to him.
The moment the basketball hit his hands I could see his energy shift. His face lit up and I could see his inner-child come out. So much joy. So grounded. Masai was instantly transported to his happy place.
I could also feel our trust and connection grow.
He originally had a 10 minute “hard stop”—but he ended up staying for almost an hour. And what an incredible human being to photograph.
So grateful to Jeff Lohnes, Afshin Mousvian and the homies at TEDxToronto for this amazing opportunity. And of course, a special shoutout to Masai Ujiri.