SI recently published a fascinating profile of Walter Iooss Jr., who has spent over 50 years photographing athletes and swimsuit models. The man has led an incredible life, and he also happens to be a great storyteller.
In this article, Iooss recounts stories of his favorite athletes and models, like Micheal Jordan, Reggie Jackson, Paulina Porizkova and Christie Brinkley. Sports fans should read the whole article and you’ll get a real sense of the bravado and charisma of people like Reggie Jackson in his prime.
Iooss loves to tell stories of how he had to charm people like Tiger Woods. With Tiger, the swimsuit pictures got his attention right away, and Iooss could then get Tiger to do what was necessary to get the shot.
And then there were the difficult ones like Barry Bonds and the prima donnas like LeBron James. His story about LeBron is very telling:
I first photographed LeBron James in 2003, when he was a rookie in Cleveland. He was pretty raw as a teenager; he didn’t have any of the smoothed edges he has now. When I shot him six years later, in 2009, the difference was amazing. He walked in like a king that day, and he took over that room. And not only physically, although he was massive then. I’ve never seen an athlete look like that. He was muscular, charming, articulate, the prince of hoops. He couldn’t have been more of an ambassador for the game.
Times change, and sadly, LeBron became a villain to many after The Decision. I’ve seen a lot of entourages, but none like his. In July 2010 I got an assignment from Nike to shoot LeBron right after his TV special announcing his move to the Heat. We rented the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where the Lakers and the Clippers used to play, and there were 53 people on my crew—including hair and makeup artists, production people, a stylist. I had $10,000 in Hollywood lighting. It was huge. When LeBron arrived, it was as if Nelson Mandela had come in. Six or seven blacked-out Escalades pulled up, a convoy. LeBron had bodyguards and his masseuse. His deejay was already there, blasting. This for a photo shoot that was going to last an hour, tops.
This is how crazy it was: I wasn’t even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amar’e Stoudemire’s family. I would say to him, “O.K., have LeBron drive right,” and then he’d turn to LeBron and say, “LeBron, go right.”
LeBron had guards in the portals on the mezzanine level, talking into their hands. Really, what was going to happen? And then at the end of the shoot they all got in the Escalades. My God, I’ve been around Michael Jordan, but with him nothing even came close to this. Unimaginable.
It was obvious that this clown had a problem when he and those around him started referring to him as King James, but this episode demonstrates just how out of control LeBron’s ego had become.
One year later, LeBron is now a punch line after his embarrassing performance in the NBA Finals. He’s gone onto ESPN to discuss how he should have done things differently when he left Cleveland last year and how he made the mistake of embracing the role of the villain. He’s going back to having fun. We’ll see about that. But more than anything he needs to get rid of the obscene entourage, and I don’t see that happening.