Charlie Perkins always wanted to escape poverty, at least once he realized he was poor. He did not know he was poor until he was 12-13 years old and went on a trip to Evanston with his church.
They drove along Lake Shore Drive and he could not believe the houses people lived in. He had never seen anything like it. In his neighborhood, the kids were all in the same boat. They wore sneakers with holes in them, made baseball fields in empty lots using cardboard for bases.
His dad left when Charlie was 12, and with only his mom to support their family, Perkins’ got a paper route. He was so excited that he made $10 his first week. Until he got home when his mom held out her hand for the $10 and told him he had to help pay the bills.
Although a tough lesson, that helped instill in him a strong desire to find a way out, through education, making connections and tenacity. (Spoiler alert: Perkins was turned down three times by Harris Bank in Chicago before they hired him.) The connections he made as a banker led him to the Chicago Bulls.
For three years Perkins was able to be courtside as a photographer for the Chicago Bulls and iconic players such as Michael Jordan during games, player warmups and behind the scenes in the hallways and near the locker rooms.
He not only photographed the basketball games, but also the players’ wives and girlfriends. Before the age of iPhones, social media, and selfies, the wives and girlfriends would hire him to shoot photos of them shopping, their baby showers, parties, limousine rides and even as the official wedding photographer at a couple of the players’ weddings.
The Other Side of the Table podcast co-host Ken Henry is no slouch when it comes to basketball, either. He played for UConn back in the day, playing in the Big East against the likes of Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and Dwayne “Pearl“ Washington at Syracuse and in venues like Madison Square Garden.
For more on how Perkins’ went from poverty to banker, to photographer of the Chicago Bulls, the friendships he made along the way, and the legendary moments he was able to witness up close, listen to our podcast, The Other Side of the Table, episode #10 Charlie Perkins (Part 2.)