HIBBING — John Peterson has taken a lot of photographs over 64 years, but some in particular, are more special than others.
One group of those photos, or slides that he found in his basement, were shot when Peterson was 13-years-old.
He attended a Minneapolis Lakers game in Minneapolis and that’s when he built a special bond with the former NBA team, and especially, Bobby Harrison.
Petey as he was known in the Lakers’ locker room, would go on to shoot photos of the team and the players he adored.
It was that special bond that brought back a relationship between Harrison and former Laker Bud Grant, and it all started innocently enough with Peterson’s love of photography.
“I was a big fan at that time, so I would listen to
them on the radio,” Peterson said. “My grandfather was also a fan, so the two of us would listen to Dick Enroth. He was the announcer on the radio at the time.
“I was a big fan. I would write to the Lakers to have them send me pictures, and I would buy them. I had 8x10s all over my bedroom of every individual Laker and all of the teams.”
One night, in particular, caught Peterson’s attention.
“We were listening to a game, and my grandfather said, ‘Why don’t we go down for a game?’” Peterson said. “I said, ‘You have to be kidding?’ He had a railroad pass and at that time, the Milwaukee Railroad went from Chicago to the west coast.
“We caught the train in Montevideo and took it to the Memorial Building, where the Lakers played. My grandfather went to his seat, and I looked up at the wall and saw all of the signs that said, ‘Locker room.’”
Peterson, being curious, walked to the Lakers’ locker room with his camera in hand.
He was met at the door by Harrison, who was a guard on that team.
“I recognized him right away,” Peterson said. “He said, ‘What can I help you with?’ I told him who I was. He said, ‘Come in. I’ll call you Petey from now on.’ He introduced me as Petey. When I talk to the two surviving members they still call my Petey. That was the start of the whole thing.”
It wasn’t the end of the story.
Peterson became a semi-mascot for the team, but not in the usual way like fetching water and other odd jobs mascots do.
“I was welcomed into the games, both before the games and at halftime, all of the time for approximately 36 games,” Peterson said. “They let me take pictures, all that I wanted to take. They finally said, ‘Why don’t you go down underneath the basket and take some action pictures.
“This wasn’t an exhibition game. It was a regular-season game.”
Nobody expected a 13-year-old to be taking pictures, so he was told to leave by an usher.
Fortunately for Peterson, one of the Lakers’ stars was on his side.
“The usher came over and said, ‘Kid, you can’t be here underneath the basket,’” Peterson said. “George Mikan had just gone in for a layup, and he tapped the usher on the shoulder and said, ‘He stays. You go.’
“From then on, I was targeted by the ushers as an official person. They never bothered me again for any game. Even later on, I was under the basket for a Globetrotter game. It was the same thing. There were ushers walking all around me, and they never bothered me at all.”
Mikan made a big impression on Peterson.
“He was a gentleman,” Peterson said. “He was the nicest guy. You would have never known that he was the king of the NBA at that time. The way he dressed. The way he handled himself. You never heard a cuss word or anything from him.”
Peterson, who wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, was taking pictures for his high-school Yearbook and he was working for his mother at her music store.
With that money, Peterson bought a 35mm camera (Kodak Retina 2A). He was using ASA10 film (Kodachome), at 1/500th of a second, with an aperture of f2. It was rare to find a camera like that in those days.
Peterson also had two flash guns mounted on his camera, that held bulbs the size of a 600 watt light bulb.
“They weren’t small bulbs,” Peterson said. “When I took a picture, I’m sure I blinded eight players. I don’t know how they let my get by with that. That camera was one of the reasons why I was able to do these color pictures.”
Needless to say, that period of time is when Peterson seriously thought about a career in photography, but more importantly, he retained his relationship with Harrison.
“He’s the one that let me in the door,” Peterson said. “Without him… You talk about ironic. He’s one of them that’s still surviving. We’ve carried on.”
The adventure started when Peterson was in the basement of his Hibbing home and found those old slides.
He was interviewed for a story in the Star Tribune in April and that spread helped reunite Grant and Harrison.
The two men, who are both 92-years-old, hadn’t talked in 68 years.
“They were teammates for only a 1 ½ years, because Bud only played for a short time,” Peterson said. “It brought them together, and now, they are talking to each other. I’m still talking to them, and they’re still calling me, ‘Petey.’
“The most impressive thing… I don’t know of any 13-year-old kid that has that kind of a story or could be more excited than I was. When I found these pictures in my basement, are they of any value? They sure are to me.”
Peterson talks basketball with Harrison, who is living in Melbourne, Fla., He even gets on the line with Grant. That’s when Peterson gave Grant Harrison’s phone number.
That, in itself, was worth finding those slides. Reuniting those two teammates is what warms Peterson’s heart the most.
“If nothing else has happened, that has happened,” Peterson said. “When I call Bobby, he’s delighted when I talk to him. He said I’m so much fun to talk to. That is satisfying. I’ve got buddies who were stars at that point.
“I think I did the right thing by bringing this to light.”