What It’s Like to Photograph a Shining Moment

Cassidy Cerny retrieved a ball from its perch 13 feet above the Moda Center court. Craig Mitchelldyer got the photo.

A weekend of NCAA men’s tournament basketball in Portland produced no upsets. But it still carried a surprise—one that drew national attention to Moda Center.

On Thursday afternoon, early in a St. Mary’s University blowout of the Indiana Hoosiers, the game ball bounced funny and became lodged behind the backboard, about 13 feet above the court. This is a regular if uncommon occurrence in basketball games (Trail Blazers announcer Lamar Hurd calls it a “wedgie”), but usually the game crew deploys a broom handle to knock the ball back down. Not this time. A couple minutes of failed attempts drew groans and laughter from the 14,000 fans in attendance.

Then Cassidy Cerny came to the rescue.

“I jokingly was like, ‘Put me up, I can go get it,” she told The Today Show on Saturday.

Cerny is an Indiana University cheerleader. That means several times a game she hops on the shoulders of teammate Nathan Paris to exhort the crowd. So that’s what she did—and Paris shuffled her to the backboard, where she retrieved the ball.

The fans roared. The announcers raved. (“That is her one shining moment,” said the play-by-play guy.) The Today Show called. The grand comedy of life marched on.

After her 15 minutes of fame in Portland, Cerny is back in Bloomington. (The Hoosiers lost.) But a key contributor to the incident was back at work in Moda Center two nights later: Craig Mitchelldyer, a Milwaukie-based freelance photographer. Mitchelldyer shoots at least 150 sporting events a year in Portland. And it was his photo that appeared on national television the next morning.

We asked him to describe how he got the shot. Mitchelldyer’s account has been edited for brevity and clarity.

I was shooting all the NCAA tournament games for the Associated Press. So that Thursday, that was the second, maybe third game of the day. They all run together. But four games that day. It was a long day.

The ball got stuck up on there. It’s something that happens from time to time. It’s not an unusual occurrence by any stretch of the imagination. So at first I didn’t really think much of it. Generally, what happens is the tallest player on the floor grabs the little broom handle and pops the ball out and they continue on the game. This time the referee grabbed the broom and he couldn’t reach it. And then he decided that his best course of action was to get a chair.

And so I’m sitting there watching this and it was underneath the basket I was shooting at. So I was maybe 10 feet away the whole time. The ref starts standing on the chair and then the players start holding it. And I thought that was kind of funny. So I took a couple pictures of that. And then I’m sitting there just laughing.

And then all of a sudden, one of the players pointed to the cheerleaders. And the cheerleaders were like, yeah, no problem. This is easy. This is what we do. He picked her up kind of far away and then held her up high. And then they like walked over and she grabbed the ball. No problem: dropped it. The whole arena was laughing.

And I was taking pictures of it the whole time. Just kind of laughing behind the camera. Like, this is hilarious. I can’t believe this is happening right now.

The way that we ran the tournament with the Associated Press is that I would be taking pictures and my cameras were plugged into an ethernet cable. The pictures that I would take, I would send to an editor. His name is Ted Warren—he’s an AP photographer in Seattle. So my pictures were going directly to Ted and I sent like three or four pictures of this thing and I just sent him a text and I said, you know, I said, make sure you move the cheerleader to the wire. it was just a weird thing. I said, make sure you move the cheerleader.

It went pretty viral. The next day my wife texts, my wife was watching The Today Show and she’s like, is this your picture on The Today Show? It was.

Their names are Nathan and Cassidy. And I only know this because Nathan [Paris] emailed me the next day and he’s like, hey, can I get a copy of this picture? Because I wanna use it in our NIL deals. And so like all of a sudden these two are getting like NIL deals from that moment. I wasn’t able to give ‘em the photo because it belongs to the Associated Press, but I told ‘em to contact the AP. I hope they make some bank off of it.

It’s funny: I don’t think the picture itself is really that good. It’s not that great of a photo. But that’s typically the case with viral stuff, right? If this would’ve been just like a regular league basketball game between these two teams, probably nobody would think much of it. But because it happened on national TV in the NCAA tournament, you know, it makes it more of a big deal. When things go viral, they’re fun for a few days and then you forget about it and you move on to the next thing. That’s the nature of our business, I suppose.