By Drew Olson Special to Published Jun 07, 2008 at 5:02 AM

Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr., has aimed his camera at thousands of athletes during the past 47 years, but some of his best-known shots were of Michael Jordan.

In a way, that's fitting.

Iooss (pronounced YOse) is the Michael Jordan of sports photography. His pictures have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated nearly 300 times. His first cover shot came 45 years ago, when he was just 19.

Iooss' latest book, "Athlete," was released a few weeks ago and contains 150 classic sports shots including the famous "Blue Dunk" overhead shot of Jordan. It retails for $34.95.

We caught up with Iooss recently and chatted about his career, his book and his business. Was it hard to decide which pictures to include in the book?

Walter Iooss, Jr.: It really wasn't that hard. We started with 600 pictures and narrowed it down to 150. There were some people I really wanted to get in there, but I couldn't do it. There were certain pictures that didn't work together. It really wasn't that difficult to figure it out and put it all together.

OMC: You are famous for portraits, which take a lot of preparation. Tell us about the "Blue Dunk" shot with Michael Jordan. You painted a parking lot and used a cherry picker to get that one, right?

WI: That was a concept shot where you wanted to get his shadow. It was a huge parking lot. He was at a kid's camp in Lisle, Illinois. We painted one red and one blue, because I didn't know what uniform he was going to show up in.

OMC: You've worked with Jordan a lot. It was probably good for both your careers.

WI: It was probably better for mine than his. His career was going pretty well by the time I met him. We did some books and some advertising work together, so you're right, Jordan was a big part of a 10-year span of my career. He's a very bright guy. I always felt like he had 12 eyes in his head. He was aware of everything that was going on. He was handsome, smart, athletic, personable... he had it all.

OMC: Is it harder to shoot game action or portraits?

WI: Since I don't do games any more, that's tough. I'm not very good at it. I feel like I'm so slow at that. I do one game a year -- the Super Bowl - and I probably shouldn't be doing that.

I like the portraits. I like the time with the athletes. I like the setup. I like the control.

OMC: The relationship between athletes and the media has changed a lot over the years. Everybody has publicists and assistants. Is it harder to get access these days and is it harder to get athletes to pose the way you want?

WI: It's much harder now. I think the biggest change has been the amount of media. When I started out there were a few magazines, your basic papers and AP UPI there is a lot more demand for the best athletes. I've been on stopwatches where you have 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute... that part is tougher.

OMC: Do photographers have a "style" that identifies their work?

WI: When I look at photographs, I try to see who took it in my mind. Especially in the NYT, you start to get a feeling for a photographer's style. Guys do have styles. Your DNA gets all over those pictures.

OMC: Is there one picture in the book that you enjoy the most, or are they like your kids where it's tough to pick a favorite?

WI: There is one picture in there that is sort of the embodiment of what I tried to make this book look like and be. It's the picture of the kids playing stickball on the street corner in Cuba. This book is somewhat about my childhood fantasies and the Walter Mitty life and living though sports. We all live through sport.

That moment, when that fat kid is swinging at the ball and trying to make contact, is absolutely a defining moment in sports. Whether you're hitting a ball, kicking a ball, shooting a basket, hitting a golf ball -- time and reality stops. That's the moment we all love in sports.



Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.