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Legendary Photos: The Stories Behind 7 of Walter Iooss Jr.’s Iconic Images

Sports photographer discusses his classic shots

Michael Jordan (The Slam Dunk), 1988

Photo of Michael Jordan

In 1987, I went to the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest in Seattle. I took one really good picture there, but I realized if you don’t see the player’s face when he dunks, it’s worthless. So, I met Michael in ’87 where I did the “Blue Dunk” photo of him.

This photo happened six months later, and I walked into the arena in Chicago for Sports Illustrated on this bitterly cold day and he was sitting in the stands three hours before the game and I said, “Hey, Michael. It’s Walter Iooss. How you doing?” I explained to him that I really needed to see his face in order to get a great dunk shot so I asked him, “Is there any way you could sort of tell me in advance which side you’re going to go from?” It was either the dumbest or smartest question I’ve ever asked.        

He said, “Yeah, I can.” I said, “How you going to do that?” He said, I’ll put my finger on my knee and point,” and I said, “You’re going to remember?” He says, “You watch.”

Everything’s a game with him and I look over, he’d point his finger. Okay, I’ll move. I go left or I go right. The next to last dunk, the one that proceeded this one, I had my back up against the stanchion and he did a similar dunk and he landed in my lap, which was sort of exciting, but I don’t think he enjoyed it.

He went back to the other end of the court again, where he took off from the previous dunk and he looked at me and he just took his hand and he waved it, like move to your right a little. So, I left the stanchion and moved to the right. I was using a super wide-angle lens, one frame, boom! Slam Dunk ’88.

I think the first picture I took of him was arguably the best picture I ever took in my life, which was the Blue Dunk (below).

Photo of Michael Jordan Blue Dunk

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