NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 22: Walt “Clyde” Frazier and George Kalinsky attend the Garden of Dreams … [+]
George Kalinsky wasn’t there at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame recently to accept in person the 2021 Curt Gowdy Media Award for his outstanding contributions to the sport. Nagging back problems prevented Kalinsky from making the trip to Springfield, Mass.
But that was OK for two reasons. Kalinsky taped an acceptance speech, played in lieu of his actual appearance. And also, Kalinsky’s unique voice has always been defined and framed by his camera anyway.
The 85-year-old Kalinsky says he isn’t finished yet, either. He has not at all lost his zest for the work that has been his passion for so many years and wants to get back out there this season.
“My goal is to get back into doing what I do,” Kalinsky said. “I love taking photographs, all kinds. I can’t wait until I get back.”
As for his taped remarks, Kalinsky, of course, could not see the reaction, but from the feedback he has gotten since then, “It seemed like everybody liked my speech. I dedicated it to the people who helped me get to where I got that night.
“I can have a lot of honors, but none of them are the Hall of Fame,” he added. “This is being voted by your peers as one of the best who ever did this.”
According to the Basketball Hall of Fame’s website, the Curt Gowdy Media Award recognizes members of the electronic and print media for “outstanding contributions to basketball.”
Kalinsky’s fame as a photographer has come from his skill at capturing the greats in sport and summing up their essence in a single frame. And although his career has spanned decades, Kalinsky is best known for his photographs from the 1960s and 1970s, a time when 24-hour sports media and social media did not exist.
Thus, as Madison Square Garden’s official photographer since the 1960s, Kalinsky was able to preserve for future generations a window into the 1969-70 and 1972-73 New York Knicks NBA championship teams, a view that looms even more important considering the Knicks lost in The Finals twice in the 1990s but haven’t won the whole thing since then.
“I’m very fortunate and blessed that I was able to do that and somehow I was able to make the moments live on forever,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Despite his talent, Kalinsky doesn’t brag. But when asked if his photos have preserved the legacy of those title teams, he responded, “The photos are what keeps the legacy alive and that’s the reality.”
“George was like one of the guys,” Hall of Famer Earl Monroe, one of the stars of the 1972-73 team, wrote in an e-mail. “Everyone loved George and everyone seemed so relaxed around him. George had a way of making everyone seem as though they were the most important person in the world.
“His photos were so iconic,” Monroe added, “because George had the knack of capturing the moment. Even shots that didn’t seem that important at the time became important because it was caught in ‘that moment of time’. Of course, those shots of the ’73 champion Knicks will live (on) because of his eye and the ability he has to capture the moment and the story it tells.”
As for the 1969-70 Knicks, Kalinsky’s photos (famous for his tag, “from the lens of George Kalinsky”) include the iconic shot of center Willis Reed emerging onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers despite a torn thigh muscle.
“I was worried about Willis,” Kalinsky recalled. “He could hardly walk. I thought there was a possibility of him hurting himself for life. But he said to me, ‘If I have to go out on my hands and knees, I’m going to play.’”
Thus, Kalinsky had to balance his emotions with his professionalism, until muscle memory took over.
“I was concerned more with his health,” he continued. “I wasn’t thinking camera. I wasn’t thinking photography. I was thinking Willis. Then when we got out on the court, I heard the most exciting and electric crowd I’ve ever heard and that was unbelievable in itself. I’m right behind Willis and I snapped one picture, which was all I could.”
It was more than enough.
Kalinsky and Madison Square Garden have become intertwined during his career. Not only do framed, life-sized prints of Kalinsky’s work adorn the walls leading to the locker rooms in the depths of the famed arena, but his photographs often have been auctioned off for MSG’s Garden of Dreams Foundation non-profit, which benefits, as its website puts it, “children facing obstacles.”
“It’s probably the ultimate compliment,” Kalinsky said, “when people want your work and want pieces for Garden of Dreams and other charities. It has been a personal reward for me to be able to work with people, many people who don’t have the wherewithal and the ability to get into closed doors. … Being able to give to charity, a part of yourself to charity, I think that’s more important than anything.”
Although Kalinsky has shot baseball extensively, counts former New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon among his closest friends and got behind the scenes with the 1972 National League champion Cincinnati Reds, he admits, “You have to say that basketball is my top sport. … I was always looking for emotions and feelings in all of my sports pictures. I could go into a losing locker room and find as much emotion as in the (winning) locker room.”
He added, “I’ve been very blessed and fortunate that I’ve been able to continue on. Hopefully, I’ll be capturing more great moments.”
I have 30 years of experience writing for daily newspapers, and I covered the Jets from 2007-16 for The Record of Bergen County, N.J. As the beat writer, I covered every
I have 30 years of experience writing for daily newspapers, and I covered the Jets from 2007-16 for The Record of Bergen County, N.J. As the beat writer, I covered every game, home and away, during that span and chronicled two long playoff runs and a subsequent slide into mediocrity. I was there for the entire Rex Ryan era, and also have covered less-loquacious head coaches Todd Bowles and Eric Mangini. And yes, I was there for then-quarterback Mark Sanchez’s infamous “butt fumble” on Thanksgiving night 2012.