We spoke to the couple behind that epic Brooklyn Bridge basketball photo
Dr. Julie Shaw and Erica Ferguson went viral when they posted a photo from their wedding of the two of them playing basketball on the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s an incredible photo, and their love story is just as incredible. Both former basketball coaches, Julie now has a Southern California-based photo booth business, Champion Photo Booths, and is working to launch the Soul of Sport. Erica is an executive coach (Julie describes her as a “dream coach” who works to help people reach their goals).
Equally Wed spoke with Julie about their relationship, their careers and their love of the game.
Equally Wed: How did you and Erica meet?
Julie: The two of us met through a mutual friend. We were both coaching at the time. I was a collegiate coach and so was Erica. I’d gone to a program with a friend, and Erica wanted to get involved with LGBTQ+ advocacy work and I was doing some of that already. Our mutual friend connected us. I got into my car one and got this huge long text about all the stuff she wanted to do. I was driving, and I said, “I’ll just have to call you.” She was like, “Oh great, she’s calling me.” We became friends and stayed in touch.
A year later, we started to realize we had feelings for each other. I went to an LGBTQ+ conference in Atlanta. Erica was in Atlanta and I was in California. I told her I’d be in Atlanta and asked if she wanted to meet up. She said, “I have a going away party for one of my friends,” and offered for me to join. I think she offered it and didn’t think I’d really want to go. I’m really social, so it was fine if I didn’t know anybody there.
When I got to her door and she opened it, there was something in me that told me “This woman is going to change my life.” We went to the party and all her friends were like, “Oh? Is this bae?” And she adamantly was like, “No.” I don’t know if I really believe in love at first sight, but I just knew that she was going to affect my life in one way or another. I kept going back to her. I couldn’t let her go.
How long did you date long distance?
It was at least a year, maybe a year and a half. I ended up deciding to leave my career as a coach and move to Atlanta and be with her. I got a good opportunity with a job out there in New York. She decided to take a big risk. We always said we want to have an adventure and we want to live a life of experiences. We took a big risk and we said okay, let’s go figure it out in New York.
We were going to have our wedding in Atlanta and canceled it last minute and decided to have it in New York. I cut the guest list in a third and we had a small, intimate wedding. I feel like I pretty much planned the wedding in a week.
That week in New York, it had been raining and storming. I was getting upset because I was like it’s going to rain on our wedding day and it was outside. For our rehearsal the day before, it was raining. We woke up that morning and we got ready at different places. It ended up being perfect. The sun came out and it was perfect. It was a little bit hot on the bridge. There were even other photographers out there taking pictures. We love Brooklyn and we had a great experience there. For me, I’m a picture person and that’s the most important part for me.
We got married outside. It was kind of hard. At the moment we finally started our vows, there was something happening. There were police helicopters. I ended up having everyone come in around us and circle. Everyone was really there, and close to us. We were able to incorporate some of the Filipino culture because I’m half-Filipino. Our pastor from our church, Jonathan Williams, was able to marry us. We were the first same-sex couple that he had married.
Tell us about the iconic wedding photo. How did you make it happen? Was it difficult to pull off?
I love sports. I’ve been connected to sports pretty much my whole life. I told her that we needed to have a basketball. Basketball has just been a part of our lives. Crazy enough, we didn’t have a basketball between us.
After our first look, we were walking and I saw this kid that was dribbling a basketball, and I was like, “Hey, can we borrow it?” I wasn’t able to get his attention and I guess Erica was able to make it happen. We called our wedding party our ‘matri-homies,’ and she sent one of them to find a basketball. This was all while we were taking our photos. She surprised me with it.
She brought it back and I was so happy that she wanted to make that happen for me on the day. We worked the ball into all the photos. We’re competitive, and she’s actually shorter than me. We decided to do jump ball. She was like, “Let’s do a jump ball and I can out-jump you!” We did a few takes. A lot of the people in our wedding party have played and coached basketball too. We love it. It’s something we identify with.
A lot of the wedding was spontaneous. Is that spontaneity and sense of adventure a big part of your relationship?
Yes. When we were getting ready to leave New York, I was like, “Let’s just go travel.” We literally just booked a ticket to one of our friends in France. We didn’t have any itinerary planned. We kind of knew what countries we wanted to visit but we didn’t know how we were going to get there. We traveled over Europe for a good two weeks. There were some nights where we didn’t have a place to stay while we were traveling, so we tried couch surfing, which is where you literally stayed with strangers. If there’s any cool thing, we’ll just be like, “Hey, this sounds neat. Let’s go try to do it.”
What does basketball mean to each of you individually and to you as a couple? Do you have any other favorite basketball memories from your relationship?
If she was here she’d probably tell you that when we were first dating, we played at Venice Beach, which is pretty iconic for basketball. If you’re dating and you play basketball, you’re probably going to have a one-on-one competition at some point. We did that—and she won. What she didn’t realize is how competitive I was. When I’m playing, there will always come a point where I become competitive. She was just having fun with it, and when I started to lose, I was like, “No, we’re going to keep playing.” From then on, we’ve had different one-on-one games. I’ll give it to her, she’s good. She has a great shot. I kind of got over that part and I give her props.
We’ve been able to do the Jumpball Basketball Programme where we help with delivering free clinics to kids in underserved areas of Jaimaca and Haiti and inner-city Kingston. We’ve been able to go there and volunteer. We didn’t have a honeymoon planned, we just decided to volunteer. We worked on the hot asphalt, delivering free basketball to these kids. That’s something that’s very big for both Erica and I. We see sports as a way to give back and as a way to create change in the world. We’ve been able to see it with the work we’ve done in the US and during our honeymoon. We want to be able to serve others, and if we can do it through sports. That’s the biggest thing I love about Erica: I always loved how she interacted with people. That just caught me off guard. She is so nice, she’s genuine with everybody she encounters and really has a passion to help others. That’s where we connect a lot. We want to create something.
We also do Wine Wisdom Wednesdays where we drink wine and write down all of our dreams. We plan out how we’re going to get there.
Who proposed to who (or did you both propose)? Do you have a proposal story?
I’m pretty good at knowing when people are going to surprise me. The fact that she even proposed to me surprised me. We’d talked about spending the rest of our lives together, but we’d never talked about this. I’d gone to visit her in Atlanta for Thanksgiving because my niece was also stationed in the army out there. On top of that, we’d signed up for a half marathon. It was my first half marathon.
We get there and I’d been training. I knew she’d be faster than me. She asked if I wanted her to stay with me. She finished before me. I crossed the finish line and she had a poster board that said: “I’m so proud of you.” My niece went to go get me some water. Erica kept standing there. She started dropping the poster boards and they started saying all these things, which she took from Love, Actually, my favorite movie. The boards said things like: I’m so proud of you, you finished your first race. Let’s get our championship rings. When I saw that word on the posterboard, I was like what is happening? I’d just finished running a half marathon.
She was like, “Go get a drink of water.” And my niece was holding up a sign that said, “Will you marry her?” I looked back over at Erica, and she was on her knee with the ring. So I’m sitting there at the finish line of this half marathon and she’s proposing to me. Erica had arranged a photographer to be there too. It was a total surprise. I did not see it coming.
She was hinting that she wanted a ring too. It was around her birthday and I was going to be coming back out to Atlanta to see Amel Larrieux, who sings “Make Me Whole,” the song I’ve always wanted to be my wedding song. We went to the concert. It was a cool, intimate thing at City Winery in Atlanta. We were sitting across from this couple. The manager taps me and gives me a thumbs up. Erica was like, “Why is he talking to you?” It continues and it’s getting toward the end of the show. Erica was like, I need to go use the bathroom. I turned to the couple across from us, and I was like, “I’m about to propose, so I need you to take photos with my camera.”
Amel announced that she was going to sing and that there was an audience member who needed to do something. I managed to get out, and there was an open space in the middle. I proposed to Erica. I was in a long skirt so I didn’t know if I should curtsy or kneel. We got to dance to the wedding song, “Make Me Whole.” It was really great because Amel and her husband met with us backstage after the concert.
They gave us the best advice that stuck with me: “We’re just really honest with each other. No matter if you think you’re going to hurt your partner or you think they can’t handle it, you just have to come out and be honest.” That just really stuck with me. We have approached our marriage like that. It’s just been great. That’s another reason I love Erica. I’m the one with the crazy thoughts and ideas and it’s been hard for me to express those things, but she’s always surprised me by taking whatever I throw at her. I can say whatever I want and she meets it with so much grace and understanding.
Did you end up dancing to that wedding song at the ceremony?
Erica knew that was my wedding song and I loved it. One of my friends is a singer and she came out to attend the wedding, but I asked her to sing Erica’s wedding song for us instead. She thought the singer was going to sing “Make Me Whole,” but she sang Erica’s song instead, “Not Even The King” by Alicia Keys. She had her wedding song at the wedding.
You went on a Volunteer Honeymoon. What was that like? Why did you choose the Jumpball Basketball Programme? What are a few of your favorite memories from doing this program with the kids?
We wanted to make it a point to do a volunteer activity at least once a month.
This is the second time Erica has gone with me and it was my third time overall. It’s become like a family. Even though it’s once a year, when you go back, the Jamaican people are so welcoming and loving and fun. I think it’s also seeing these kids. It’s hot asphalt. They aren’t the best players. They’re simply playing for the joy of it and the community of it. Some of them don’t have shoes. They aren’t complaining. It’s the spirit of the kids and everybody who comes to that camp. For that week, it’s such a special week for them. I’ve been able to see some of these kids grow up, too. Jump ball becomes something special for them and some of those kids are becoming coaches to coach the next generation of kids.
I’ve been very fortunate that sports has exposed me to so many different things, particularly basketball. It makes sense for that to be part of our wedding photo.
Do you have any advice for couples—about wedding planning, marriage, relationships, basketball?
Always be honest. One thing that we have learned is to just support each other and learn how the other person needs to be supported. I do think that’s how a lot of relationships might not succeed is because there’s something lacking. If we take the time to really listen and give that person what they do need, that’ll really help.
Ceremony Venue: Jane’s Carousel
Reception Venue: AlMar Dumbo
Attire for Julie: Arlet Bridal
Attire for Erica: Bindle & Keep
Florist: Julie Shaw
Wedding Song Singer: Lakin
Cake Designer: Buttermilk Bakeshop