You might recognize this iconic photograph of Michael Jordan flying through the air during the 1988 NBA Dunk Contest in Chicago. It was captured by renowned Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr., a man who has created some of the most memorable photographs of athletes over the past fifty years (another of his iconic photographs is “The Catch“).
As a followup to its ranking of the 100 greatest sports photographs of all time, the magazine caught up with Iooss to find out about the story behind this photograph.
Iooss also shared the same story back in 2008 over at The Digital Journalist:
The problem with shooting the NBA slam-dunk contest was that you never knew how the players were going to dunk, especially Jordan. In 1997 he had twirled and dunked with his back to me. But by this time I knew him a little better. As he sat in the stands three hours before the contest, I said, “Michael, can you tell me which way you’re going to go, so I can move and get your face in the picture?” He looked at me as if I were crazy but then said, “Sure. Before I go out to dunk I’ll put my index finger on my knee and point which way I’m going.” I said, “You’re going to remember that?” And he said, “Sure.” So later, when they announced his name, I looked over to him on the bench and there was his finger pointing left. I got up and moved to the right side of the basket so I could see his face. He went left every time he dunked. On his last two dunks he ran the length of the court, took off from the foul line and slammed the ball through. On the next-to-last one he landed in my lap. On the last one I set up in the same spot. He looked at me as if to say, “Go left a little, give me some room this time.” And that was it, the picture was made: 1000th of a second frozen in time.
Image credits: Photograph by Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated