We the Game: Thai Neave AKA @shootinghoops
In this installment, we go behind-the-scenes with Thai Neave (aka @shootinghoops), one of the most prolific photographers in the game.
Once a sports news anchor, Thai Neave has become one of basketball’s most prolific photographers. His Instagram account @shootinghoops is a must-follow for lovers of the game, and his photographs that capture the unfiltered beauty of the sport hang on walls inside homes all over the world. We caught up with Thai at the Wilson x Venice Ball White Men Can’t Jump Tourney in Venice Beach to feature him in our ongoing #WeTheGame story series.
Can you talk about where you’re from and your origin story?
My name is Thai, and I'm Australian as you'll hear from my accent. I was actually, believe it or not, a Sportscenter anchor living out in Bristol, Connecticut. I spent many years in front of the camera and I would travel around the globe working for ESPN or Fox Sports, and I fell in love with photography. Basketball has always been my first love and my passion, and I played all my life. So, on the weekends I would go down to the courts, and the more photos I took, the more I realized I wanted to be behind the camera capturing the game I love.
How did you fall in love with the game initially?
I grew up playing soccer, but at age 13 I fell in love with basketball and I would play before school, at lunch, at night, on the weekends, and we played so much that our sneakers would be worn down. All we would do is play basketball, eat, sleep, repeat over and over again. This was all taking place in the 90s, so Michael Jordan was the man. I still think Michael is the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron is breathing down his neck now. Nineties basketball was so fun - Shawn Kemp, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway. I was one of those guys that never had a favorite team, I just loved players, and kids these days don't understand how easy they have it with access to the game. When I was growing up in Australia, I would have to wait days just to get results back from games or stats or boxscores, and now we all take it for granted how easily we can get instant access to the game all over the world. The world is changing so fast.
Can you talk about your connection to the game?
For me basketball is like ballet on concrete. I find it so beautiful. To me this is a beautiful game. As I've dug deeper into basketball, my love for it has always returned to the purity of the game - the grass roots, to the asphalt, to the concrete. To me this is where basketball is at its most beautiful. I love the NBA, but for me the game is about being outdoors, in the sunlight, playing with a bunch of strangers that become your best friends. Some of my best friends around the world I've met playing pick up basketball. To me that's just the most awesome thing that you can do, to get together with 4 strangers and have this goal of winning against 5 other strangers. For that 20 minutes there's nothing else in the world that matters.
Can you talk about what you saw today at the White Men Can’t Jump 2 on 2 tourney while you were shooting?
To me this is one of the greatest courts in the world. I'll always say that New York is the mecca of basketball, but Venice Beach is a very close 2nd. There's so much color out here. The clothes that everyone wears, the sneakers, the court surface, the blue ocean, the blue sky, the green palm trees. There's so much beauty here. The hardest thing for me is to pick a frame, to find the little things amongst the chaos of Los Angeles.
When you're shooting, what do you look for?
For me what I'm always looking for is expression. I'm expressing myself through my photography and what I want to see is smiles and back slaps and handshakes, rage, emotion. Essentially at the end of the day I'm a storyteller and in order to tell stories we need emotion. That's how we connect. We understand how someone's happy or angry just by the look on their face.
Over the years you've shot the game. What have been some of your favorite moments?
The biggest joy has been the people, the friends that I've made. I've made friends with NBA players, people experiencing homelessness, Wall Street guys, every type of person. I've made friends with people all around the world because I have something in common with them, and that's the love of basketball. This game can unite us because once you get on the basketball court, it doesn't matter how tall you are, how much money you make, the color of the skin, or where you come from. When you're on the basketball court, you play hard and you have fun.
What are your hopes for the future?
What I would love for ‘SHOOTING HOOPS’ is to get my art on as many people's walls as possible. I get so much satisfaction when my art is hanging on someone's wall and that image evokes something for them. There's a universal feeling in my work about street basketball that when they see my images, they remember something about their childhood, about their hoop dreams, and about their love of the game.
For more #WeTheGame stories about the people, places, and culture of the game, follow @wilsonbasketball on Instagram. Check back regularly on the brand blog for more exclusive full interviews.