This was originally shot for SI for Kids, a sister publication that Sports Illustrated started publishing in the 1990s, and still publishes today. One of the best parts of shooting for the magazine was that many of the athletes we shot had grown up reading the publication. They were much more likely to go along with the sometimes-silly ways we asked them to pose. We once painted Reggie Bush entirely gold to have him pose as a life-sized Oscar statue.
This image came out of a trip to Cleveland when LeBron was in his original time there. The idea was “King James” would be shown on a chessboard driving through giant chessmen. Finding the giant chessmen and getting them to Cleveland is a story in and of itself. Let me just say that people who deal in giant chess pieces are not like us.
Once we had the pieces set up and the lighting set, Cleveland’s PR person came into our room, looked at her watch and said, “you’ve got 10 minutes.” Lebron was a consummate pro. He understood the shot immediately and got right to work. Since we were lighting with strobes, we only had one shot each time he strode through the pieces. On shot thirteen, I looked at the monitor and said, “that’s it, we’ve got it.”
I looked at my watch and saw that I had almost four minutes remaining, so I changed the background lighting a little and added a ring-light to the front of my camera and shot this portrait. One of my all-time favorites.
To me, the lesson here is when you have an interesting or famous subject, always shoot the assignment first, but if you have time try to create a different image for yourself. Many of the assignments do not stand the test of time, but a classic portrait will always resonate.
Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mk III
Lens: Canon 20-70 F2.8L IS USM @ 40mm
Exposure: 1/250 @ f22, ISO 200