I was on the sideline shooting photos when I looked over at the Desert Mountain bench and noticed coach John Ortega holding a clipboard. On the clipboard was one word written in black dry-erase-marker.
A slight beat, then the screaming kids, you know who they are, they all began screaming in unison...Stern! Stern! Stern! as #40 made his way to check in at the score table. He took a knee and awaited his entry into the game.
After a few runs up and down the court, the ref blews the whistle, and calls, "SUBS!"
With only a few minutes left in the game, the young man known as STERN stood up and ran onto the court with the energy of someone who was about to set it off. He beat his chest like a motivated Silver Back and pointed to the screaming kids...and they all respond in kind and set the place on fire.
Up the court the players scrambled and North Canyon eventually scored a layup. Desert Mountain inbounded the ball and then it was on. Stern sprinted up the court like a point guard on a mission. He was the first man up the court. When the others finally caught up, the pattern was set. A quick spot on the block for Stern and he cut through the paint to receive the entry pass. He caught it, did a quick fake to the left left, made one dribble across the paint to his right for a right hand layup. THE CROWD WENT WILD. He would score one more bucket before the night was over, but from the reaction of the fans, you would have thought he scored his 10,000th.
Later that night at a team dinner I watched as Stern made his way around the room. I could hear him at one table, then the next, and finally he arrived at the one I am sitting at. He spoke to all at the table and anyone who would hear him. "Thank you all for coming out tonight!", he said. "None of this would have been possible without you all and I really appreciate it!". He continued, "Words cannot express what it means to me to be here tonight, words can't express how happy I am that you came, thanks guys!" And then it hit me.
The broken road
My name is Maury "Super Mauryo" Osbourne and for the most part I am someone who attends basketball games and remains pretty anonymous. I film them, I leave. But at Desert Mountain, my journey with that group of people, family if I may, my journey with that family has been a little different.
My journey with Desert Mountain started over 10 years ago when my son Maliq Osbourne played basketball with the TrueBallerz club team coached by Chris Holloway. For additional skills training, Chris recommended that Maliq meet a point guard named Kevin Augustine. Kevin is a basketball protegy who went to school at Mater Dei in California. He's the kind of player that received recruiting telephone calls when he was in 8th grade. So we met with him and he continues to mentor Maliq to this day.
One day during training, Gino Littles walks in. I had seen Gino at many tournaments and interacted with him from time to time and my interactions were always pleasant. He is the kind of kid that says, "thank you!", "yes sir!", "no sir!". The kind of kid that is always pleasant and capable of making friends in a heartbeat.
Well, we all shared the same trainer for a beat. But as life happens, we did not see them for a while except when we would see them at tournaments.
The next chance opportunity I had to interact with Gino and his family came by way of coach Rick McGee. I honestly cannot remember what the circumstances were that brought he and I together, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have met him. We learned about each other through a mutual friend and once he had an idea about my business, SpotlightME.tv, he invited me to set up a booth at the tryouts in Phoenix for the Arizona Stars.
I figured that since I was gonna be there, I might as well take pictures, film it, and do whatever I could do to promote myself and get my name out. So I did.
Gino's mom, Dana Littles, was within earshot as I was explaining my business to a small crowd of parents. She hears what I am explaining about my business and determines to get more information. Who knew that along the way, she and I would form a great friendship and it would subsequently lead to STERN.
I built the website GinoLittles.com and also taught Gino and Dana how to use it to reach out to different coaches. It has proven a very effective tool for them and I am grateful that we had a chance to reconnect. Our company offers a service whereby we film games for student-athletes and put together highlight videos to use as promotional tools for the student-athletes. That is part of the broken road that led me to the circuit in 2012/13 covering the Desert Mountain basketball games.
I've watched these kids playing together for the last couple of years, through all the heartaches, and the victories. Some heartaches hurt more than others. One such heartache was the sudden departure of point guard Rolando Rhymes. He was a sight to see. I watched him take leadership and lead the team to victory on many occasions. I also watched his emotions when things did not go so well. The emotions that show up when one knows victory was just right there. It's the kind of emotion that one can only experience when they play at a high level, in every
I missed you this evening Rolando. I am sure I was not the only one. Please give my best regards to your grandparents, parents, siblings, (John Legend), and cousins who all came to root for you. We all cheer for you.
There is a ritual before every Varsity basketball game. The starters get introduced and they run from the benches to meet their teammates on the court. A quick silly greeting, a fist bump, a mid-air body slam, a TSA body search. Then they huddle. A teammate stands in the middle pumping up the group with a dance or cheer. And finally, one last chant. "Play hard!" Let the game begin.
On many occasions, Gino or Rolando would lead the cheer. But occasionally, there was a kid who would play substitute. That kid was Stern.
Stern shows up at every game wearing the team uniform and his trademark white head band. During the team dinner I had learned that Stern was the team manager. He is the kid that makes sure that all the players get their water, all the players pass-off rags are in place, all the players are present and accounted for. That's Stern. But Stern is also the kid that gets the screaming kids, screaming.
So much more than a game
Over the years, I have attended countless games. In many circles, I have developed friendships that have persisted. The kind of friendships where you see someone and know immediately that you have seen them at a game or two and you greet each other accordingly. Some of the friendships go a step further. "How's Maliq" they will ask. And quite often I will also ask about their kids, or their family, or whatever it is in their life that they thought was interesting enough to let me in on. The kind of friendships that you are thinking of right now as you are reading this text. That's what I'm talking about. This evening, I was reminded, It's more than just a game! It's more than hardwood. It's bigger!
It's the seniors walking off the court for the last time and passing the torch to the next group. The emotions that overwhelm them as they hug each other and high-five their coaches, possibly for the last time. It's Gino walking off the court for the last time. It was about me being in the position to capture that picture. It's the understanding behind the image. It's Gino's mom breaking down with emotions. It's Mark, Ila, and Sandy walking in lockstep as they take the senior walk and are introduced as Remi's family. Finally, I get it Stern.
Will Goff, rocking the rim, getting undercut, slamming to the floor. Sitting there for a moment. Standing up, and running to get up the court to catch up to his teammates. They could not rush over to pick him up because the refs immediately put the ball back in play. I was there. I caught the images. Thanks Stern.
Jordan Higgins taking the fouls that come with someone of his stature. In certain circles, some would call him a "BIG". But this night at dinner, sitting across from me at the table was his mom Kim. He came over for a brief moment and asked her if he could go out with the team to hang out at a trampoline gym. Then I saw it. On the court he's Big, but to Kim, he's small. I get it Stern.
Remi Smith, I saw the pressure of being the go to guy for 3's. I never saw it before. But I saw it at the VisitMesa tournament when Desert Mountain was down against Red Mountain. "Remi shoot it!", coach Keener screamed from the sideline. Coach Keener is from Detroit and expects his players to take chances when the opportunity arises. Any player with the opportunity, that's the kid that takes it. From the stands I can see that they run plays, I can see that the kids follow the directions, but I also see the coach, encouraging, "take the shot!" I get it Stern.
I saw it Mark, I saw you taking the fouls and knocking down the free throws. The football player, working on his footwork on the hardwood. Jordan could not have brought down so many boards without you and you could not have banged on the hardwood so forcefully without Jordan. That's an easy one to get Stern. They had to work together.
There it was Javi, when you and your parents were center court, pausing for a picture. The picture shows a mom with a rose and a kid in her hands, and a dad with hope and a young man by his side. The kind of hope that only another dad would see in a dad's eyes. The hope that his sons future will be great and promising. A hope that all the lessons that you learned while playing this sport sticks with you. Underneath that gray hair, hope. I assure you. And he hopes nothing but the best for you. #Stern
I saw Grant Rees, briefly. Briefly because his first step was often the last time you saw him. One moment he was nailing the layup and the next he was in the opponents face playing defense. Leaving it all on the court.
Jordan Lossman, your smile was infectious and you never failed to give a high-five whenever we met. You are the kind of person that the team needs when things go sideways. I think Jordan gets it too Stern.
Standing at 6'6", Jacob Burton is a towering big, he is always right there in the paint. Watching for the entry pass or leaping for the rebound. Sometimes when these players are jumping you have no idea how high they are when you are looking at them from the stands. Well I took the pic of your put-back this evening Jacob. And you were playing above the rim.
I watched you Gino Littles, from way back when. I remember seeing you when you were 13 at a game in North Phoenix and commenting to other coaches on the Gorillas about how I would never leave you open for a 3. And if you were playing against a team I was coaching, I would still feel the same way. "Do not leave Gino open for a 3, you will regret it!"
The coaching staff was constantly planning, refining, collecting, regrouping, and encouraging. They represented what coaching is all about. The passion often begins and ends with the coaches, and their is no shortage of passion from this bench. I see it Stern.
I saw it when coach Keener talked to the parents in the alternate gym. When a student-athlete asked for a picture, he would smile, and follow wherever he was needed. He is a great follower that way. And subsequently a great leader. He may be the kind of coach that people look at from the stands and make snide comments, but take it from a Marine, he is the kind of coach that you need when $&*# hits the fan. Calm, poised, decisive.
Stern, this night you had an opportunity to get out there and do your personal best. You could have easily entered the game and ran the court up and down till the refs called the game. And everyone would have cheered and said you did a good job.
You could have passed the ball to other players when your opportunity came. But no, with confidence you took a textbook layup and ignited the bomb. Booyah!!!! You took the shot!
The People you don't know
I do not know who your parents are Stern. But I do know who your family is. And they, your whole family, ought to be proud of you for keeping them together. For always encouraging. For always showing up and playing your part. For taking pride in the work that you did for the family. The work that many do not see.
On this night, I saw it Stern. I saw it in the whole gym. I saw it as you knelt, waiting for your turn. I saw it when the police had to contain the crowd when you dropped the deuce. I felt it when the screamers erupted and jumped on my back while I snapped the pic. I saw it when coach Littles came out of retirement for a few moments to lead a halftime trio through a three point show (his team won by the way). I saw it in the alternate gym when the families were all trying to take advantage of this precious hour. Photographers call it "the golden hour". It's the time when the sun is just right, and people seem to glow. I saw it when the fire alarm went off and the seniors were outside planning their huddle ritual. "OK, lets do this!, Let's do that! Then you guys do this!" I saw it when the cheerleaders were practicing by the bleachers. I saw it when they threw their pompoms to conclude their halftime show. Many of them had danced their last jig. I saw it Stern.
Yep, by some broken way on the road, I was able to follow this family and watch it grow.
A special thank you to my dear friend Dana Littles. I am grateful for the broken road that led me to you, Randy, Gino, Gene, Yvette, Mark, Ila, Sandy, Amy, Coach Goth, Bill, Lynne, Bill, Coach Keener, John Ortega, Coach Tendall, Danielle, Kim, and so many others. I am so grateful that when I had a shot to take, I took it. Even if it meant that I had to use my Iphone to film the tryouts. A shot that led me to Stern.
Thank you Desert Mountain Seniors and Desert Mountain Basketball parents for allowing me to be a shutterbug and welcoming me into your family. May the road you are on continue to lead you to more Stern's. We can all use more people like Stern in our lives.
During the events of this evening. I had the pleasure of meeting the official Desert Mountain event photographer Chris. We started talking photog stuff and he began giving me information on how I can take better pictures in this situation. He took leadership and provided instruction to me so that I may be a better photographer. He is a Stern impersonator. See Stern, even people who have never met before feel your energy. Thank you Chris for taking the time to help me get my settings right.
M - "Chris, I have to say that I am struggling getting my lighting right in these situations, these are not the kinds of images that I take on the regular and I am struggling with my settings from frame to frame. The images I do take on the reg, I am great at, but here, I am struggling."
C - "Set your camera to 1600, actually - use auto. I hate to say it, but sometimes in this situation when you are learning, auto is best."
M - "Well all I can do is my best, that's it! I will take the shots!"
C - "That's what I do also, now let's take some pictures!"
Maury "Super M@uryo" Osbourne is a former Marine, an Award Winning Film Producer, a fantastic photographer and a pretty nice guy. He runs SpotlightME.tv and works relentlessly to be successful at his business. You can reach him at 602.703.2638.