Growing up on Long Island, George Kalinsky always wanted to be Hall of Fame Center Fielder Willie Mays or Harlem Globetrotter Marques Haynes. Instead, he attended art school and became the official photographer at Madison Square Garden in 1966 – a job he still does today – capturing some of the most iconic moments in sports and entertainment history.
(Kalinsky was out last season because of the COVID-19 risk, but he shot a playoff game. And he plans to return this season to photograph the Knicks.)
Ironically, the 85-year-old’s camera and artwork ensured he was recognized alongside some of his heroes. This weekend, Kalinsky will receive the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame.
When Hall of Fame President John Doleva called the Upper East Sider to get the word out, Kalinsky called it a “powerful” moment. “I couldn’t believe it when he said I was going to be locked up there. I went back playing in the school yard. I never thought I’d be in the Hall of Fame, but I made it as an artist, ”he told the Post.
Here the legendary Lensman tells the stories behind his most iconic shots from the Hoops universe.
The making of “Clyde” Frazier
Basketball fans know Walt “Clyde” Frazier for his flashy suits and sociable personality. When Kalinsky met him he was a ball player trying to get out of his shell. “He came in one day and said, ‘We have to come up with something where I have an alter ego. I’m really nervous when I get into a big crowd, ‘”Kalinsky recalls.
One day Frazier was wearing a green hat, green suit, and green alligator boots. Kalinsky thought he looked sharp and shot his portrait. The kink then showed up in extravagant clothes in Madison Square Garden, causing the team coach to say he was like Clyde from “Bonnie and Clyde” – and the person got stuck. This later snapshot, taken in 1969, marked Walt’s debut as “Clyde,” with the ball player wearing a belt with his new nickname.
“He always says, ‘George made me,’ but the pieces just fit together,” said Kalinsky. “The Knicks were starting to win and magazines asked me for pictures of him. I am definitely happy to be part of this team. “
Willis Reed’s Sand Walk
During Game 5 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knick Willis Reed tore a muscle in his thigh and sat in Game 6, leaving fans – and the Lakers players – with one big question: Would Reed play along ? Game 7?
Over lunch at Horn & Hardart at Penn Station, Kalinksy told his friend he could be injured for life if he went to court. “He said to me, ‘You know, George, if I have a chance in my life to win a championship, I’ll take it. Even if I have to crawl on my hands and knees on the court, I have to play. ‘”Kalinsky followed him as he hobbled onto the hardwood and the moment, thanks to Reed’s grit and Kalinksy’s eyes, would feed into both NBAs and MSG lore.
“It was the most electrified I’d ever seen in Madison Square Garden. It was the most amazing sound, ”said Kalinsky, noting that Reed made the first two baskets, setting the tone for the entire game. “Basically, he inspired the Knicks to win this game and their first championship.”
Bill Russell’s art in motion
In February 1968, the Boston Celtics played the Detroit Pistons in a double header in the first game of the then new Madison Square Garden. Sure, it was a remarkable night in the building’s history, but it was the form and athleticism of Celtic Bill Russell, along with the perfect timing on the part of the photographer, that made this excursion so special.
“You can’t believe his foot can be that high. Its structure looks so perfect. It’s nice how he played and a beauty in his athleticism, ”said Kalinsky.
Kalinsky said the picture was Russell’s favorite picture of himself. About 10 years ago the NBA made him a doll and he insisted that the photo be used as inspiration.
“It’s also my favorite basketball picture I’ve ever taken,” said Kalinsky, who hangs the picture on the wall of his apartment. He would also like to see the photo that celebrates movement and human form in another medium. “I think it would be a nice sculpture. I could see that in the Museum of Modern Art. “
Last call for Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain and Kalinsky had a friendship that stretched back to the Kutscher’s Hotel in the Catskills, where Chamberlain was a famous bellhop – and their relationship would continue while the 7-foot-1 center dominated the league.
When the Knicks defeated the Chamberlain’s Lakers in the 1973 championship, Kalinsky shot the celebration in the New York locker room. But then he went to his old buddy. “I also always go into the losing room because there are sometimes more emotions there. I think Wilt was glad I was there. I felt he needed support, and thanks to the friendship we had, I owed it to him. “
Kalinsky’s picture would be even more powerful than he could have imagined. It would be the last time the legendary rebounder takes off his NBA uniform. Although he was courted by other teams, he retired after the season to pursue other interests.
“As with many photos, I only realized the true elements a few years later, and you can tell how important this moment was.”
The fashion showdown
In February 1985, St. John’s was ranked # 1 and had a winning streak of 13 games. And coach Lou Carnesecca wore an “ugly” brown sweater with a chevron pattern, which is known to be his lucky charm. As they faced their archenemy Georgetown, trainer John Thompson approached Carnesecca and opened his jacket to reveal the same sweater. It was a moment of humor and humanity in the long simmering rivalry between the Big East institutions.
“I tried to trap Louie in that sweater for weeks. It was a big deal. Thompson made such a great PR move, ”said Kalinksy. The fashion showdown, which No. 2 Georgetown easily won, became known as “The Sweater Game” as an iconic part of college hoop history. Kalinsky had another reason to love the photo.
“As a photographer, this picture is important to me because it is my best friend [St. John’s team] Dr. Irving Glick was right in the middle. “
It has to be the shoes
“Luck was very good for me. I’m in the right place on so many occasions, I don’t get it, ”Kalinksy said.
For example, he was at the 1985 slam dunk competition in Indianapolis when a rookie named Michael Jordan took the stage wearing a pair of shoes that would change the game on and off the pitch.
“I think that was the first time he was photographed in Air Jordans,” said Kalinsky. “Nike pushed these new designer sneakers forward, and it was very important to fully display them.”
When Jordan first retired in 1993, Newsweek reprinted the photo, and it was also widely used by Nike. While Kalinksy was making some money, he said it was never about the dough.
“It was special because it left its mark,” he said of the photo.