Robin Layton on Sixth Man Journal

Sixth Man Journal

by Ed McNally  May 27, 2014


“This book provides such inspiration. With just a ball and hoop you are on your way to fulfilling your dreams. Robin Layton illustrates the magic and purity of our game with her amazing photos.”
—Gary Payton, Former NBA Superstar & Hall of FamerWoven_Robin_Layton_72[1]


At the age of 24, Robin Layton was named as one of the eight most talented photographers in America. Since then, her career as taken an upward trajectory; she enjoyed an award winning career as a photo-journalist with various newspapers, including The Virginian-Pilot and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 

During this tenure, in which she held key positions with numerous different newspapers, Robin was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for some of her documentary photography. After embarking upon a new chapter in her career as a freelance journalist, she traveled the world for documentary photography projects.

Inspired by a close friend, Robin decided to undertake an ambitious new project; documenting the “universal American experience and worldwide cultural touchstone” that is the game of basketball, using her renowned photography skills.

Robin shot over 100,000 images over a period of 9 months

The finished product of Robin’s innovative project is something to behold; a stunning collection of photographs which elegantly captures the beauty of the most basic element of the game; hoops. The photos are accompanied by touching tributes and stories about the game from some of it’s most accomplished stars; LeBron James, Sue Bird, Coach K, and Shaquille O’Neal among many others.

“Those of us who have tested gravity under a hoop know its mystical properties. Robin Layton, as I would have expected, has turned this staple of Americana into a gorgeous art form.”
—George Vecsey, The New York Times

In the making of ‘hoop’, Robin zigzagged across America, travelling many thousands of miles and visiting no less than 35 states. Her travels extended from the mecca of street ball (New York’s Rucker Park), to the White House, and to the childhood home of Larry Bird in rural Indiana.

We spoke with Robin to find out more about the book, her career, and future plans.

Tell us a little bit about your background

I was a photojournalist for 5 different newspapers around the country for sixteen years.   In 2001, I decided to go freelance and have had an amazing career ever since.  I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph prom queens to actual kings, street people to presidents; personalities from Oprah Winfrey to Shaquille O’Neal.  Recently I’ve had the honor of becoming a NIKON Ambassador for the United States.

Did you play ball when you were younger?

I mostly played softball but loved playing any sport.  I mostly played intramural sports in school.  I’m still proud of being named “best sixth grade athlete” and the plague is still hanging at my middle school!

How did the idea for the book come about? 

About 10 years ago, a friend and I used to send photos we took to each other as cards as a way to keep in touch.   One year, he sent me about 5 different cards he shot, all of different hoops.   I told him for years that he should do a book, cards, calendars, etc, but he had no interest in doing so.   I saw a hoop in the snow while out shooting another assignment and decided to take a photo of it.   I was hooked.   I immediately called him on the spot and asked if he still had any interest in doing a book and if so, would he mind if I did it.  He said, “Go for it! Show me how it’s done!”

Tell us about the process of contacting and interviewing all the players in the book? 

My friend Michelle Marciniak (who is in the book) introduced me to a lot of the women in my book.   Also, I was introduced to Ann Meyers Drysdale by friends and met her while I was in New York at her book signing at the beginning of my project.   She connected me to Rick Barry and Rick connected me to Jerry West’s wife, Karen.  They all fell in love with the concept. Karen then introduced me to a lot of the players and coaches via email. It really took off from there. She was one of many angels who helped me with this project.

Of all the players you interviewed, whose basketball-beginnings story was your favorite/inspired you most? 

I love all the quotes/stories in my book, but two that come to mind are Elgin Baylor and Doris Roger’s stories. They touched me the most.

What was the photo-snapping road trip like itself? 

It was like a treasure hunt, zig zagging across this beautiful country of ours, driving down back roads, looking for unique hoops and the childhood hoops of some of the most revered players of our time.  Being with one of my best friends made it all the more fun, the days went by SO fast!   We still can’t believe that we did it.

 Do you have a favorite photograph/hoop from the book?

I have many, I consider them all my “children.” But one of my favorites is the photo with the ivy woven through the net.

What was it like to receive such a great reception about the book? – with glowing endorsements from Gary Payton among others

I was just thrilled!   I couldn’t have been happier.   All the wonderful blurbs and a forward written by the one and only Jerry West!   Also, I didn’t realize that EVERYONE seems to love basketball.   Everywhere I went, when people heard about my book or saw it, they just LOVED it!

 Is ‘hoop: the american dream’ the favorite project you have worked on thus far? 

I have done so many wonderful projects, but this is definitely one of my favorites!

 Tell us about your future plans, what can we expect to see from you next? 

I have an art exhibit next Spring at Winston Wachter Fine Art Gallery in New York featuring images from the book along with a book signing there.

I’m working on another fine art show in Seattle that will happen this Fall, with images I’ve taken of 12thMan/Seahawks.  It will be a pop up art exhibit.

And currently, I’m working on a project with ESPN for their 35 year anniversary and also making films for OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Where can people buy the book? 

From me (just email me),, etc

Also, more info about the book can be found on