As the bus carrying the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team pulled away from Chicago Stadium, Photographer Walter Iooss Jr. picked up his camera and began to shoot. Click. "When I accepted this assignment [page 24], I decided to use my camera as a visual tape recorder to document the monotony of the travel," Iooss (pronounced "Yoce") says. Click. "The players became accustomed to me after a few days and I was able to use my favorite technique—shooting a kind of still life and fitting the person into that environment, his environment." Click. "Basketball players love to stretch out, putting their legs across the aisle. I have always been into lines and balance, form and grace, and I try to compose my photographs with these elements."
His shooting completed, Iooss rewound and opened his camera.
"The players loved it," Iooss says.
January 3, 1977
Iooss remembered his film for the rest of the assignment, as he has for the 102 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers (including this week's) that he has shot. That's more than any other photographer has, except for Neil Leifer.
"Neil and I grew up with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED," says Walter, who is now 33. "When I first showed my portfolio to Leifer, it was in the lobby of the Time-Life Building. I was trying to impress a redheaded 17-year-old kid. I was 16, had just sold my first photograph and had worn braces on my teeth for such a long time that my high school classmates still can't picture me without them."
Leifer recalls his initial reaction. "He had so much promise I hoped he would go elsewhere," Neil says. "His talent was manifest immediately. I know that when you're shooting the same game as Walter, you have to be at your best or he'll whip you every time."
Jerry Cooke, SI's Director of Photography, says, "Iooss is a photographic athlete. He has exceptional reflexes and eye-hand coordination. He's the best in the business at following action with a 1,000-mm. lens. He knows sports, and he has a really beautiful sense of composition."
The assignment with the Bucks gave Iooss a chance to show athletes in a state seldom seen by their fans—catatonic. When they were not sleeping they did almost nothing but play backgammon. "They were zombies," Iooss says. "When I wanted to go out, all they wanted to do was go to bed with an ice pack on their knees."
Those who have known the breezy, party-loving Iooss for years say that he, too, is becoming sedate, a radical change from the old "Coast-to-Coast Iooss" out of East Orange, N.J. The reason may be Christiaan Bjorn Iooss, whom Walter's Dutch-born wife Evelyne gave birth to eight weeks ago. "The baby's birth is the most exciting thing ever to happen to me," says Iooss. He was in the delivery room but did not photograph the delivery. "I didn't want a camera to alter my mood," he says. "I wanted nothing between my eyes and the baby. There will be time for photographs."
With film in the camera.