Sixteen months later Richard Nixon was elected president of the U.S. on a platform that consisted primarily of stopping subversives like Iooss. "That's when I started to grow my hair and show up in scarves, bell-bottoms, outrageous shades, rings, and chains around my neck," Iooss says. "When I went to Knoxville, Tennessee, in a see-through shirt to cover college football's first game on artificial turf, everyone was staring at me. My assistant and I got to the rental-car counter, and the girl says, 'Y'all going to a Halloween party?' Meanwhile it's November. That happened a lot."
Before the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Roy Terrell, who was an assistant managing editor at SI, summoned Iooss to his office and informed him that because of the Mexican government's repression of student protests, he wanted Iooss to cut his hair. Iooss declined, so the magazine sent him anyway. But when Iooss's beloved Philadelphia Phillies went into their final series of the season, he got permission to head back to Connie Mack Stadium before the Olympics ended.
"He ran home from Mexico City because at that point Walter was interested only in baseball, football and basketball—the American sports," says Leifer. "He's grown intellectually since then. Part of the reason he still has the fire you need to stay out there is that he keeps growing. It's easy to have a hot month; a lot of guys have done that. Walter has had a hot 30 years."
During the turbulent period in the early '70s when athletes were beginning to challenge their coaches and institutions such as the press, Iooss befriended two of the most difficult stars: the Phillies' Richie (Call Me Dick) Allen and the Milwaukee Bucks' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who at that time feared for his life following a massacre of fellow Moslems at a building he owned in Washington, D.C. Iooss had been told that Abdul-Jabbar would never pose for a portrait, but when Iooss showed up in Milwaukee with an album from his friend Les McCann, the jazz bandleader, "The next thing I knew, Kareem was sitting for me."
"Walter makes the subjects of his pictures his friends," says Fine. "Then he draws them into the shooting with his charm. They end up wanting to make a good picture as much as he does."
One snake he was never able to charm was John McEnroe, whose campaigns of terror at Wimbledon Iooss covered as a combat photographer might have. "It became almost like a war," Iooss says. "He would look at me and try to intimidate me. McEnroe hated photographers, he hated distractions, and what he hated most was the sound of the motors when we would rewind. I was always closing in on him. I wanted him to notice me, because I wanted to talk to him."
The day after he lost the 1980 Wimbledon final to Bjorn Borg, McEnroe found himself in the British Airways lounge at London's Heathrow Airport with Iooss, who asked his friend Arthur Ashe to introduce them. "Not me," replied Ashe. "I've seen him mistreat his mother, his father, everyone he's ever been around." Ashe's wife, Jeannie, also a photographer, offered to take Iooss over. McEnroe listened to her introduction, then began fulminating at Iooss. "Can't you just shoot one roll of film during a match?" he whined. "Why do you have to bother me? You're assassins. You're all assassins."
During the semifinals of the U.S. Open a few months later, Iooss was rewinding film and reloading his camera during a changeover. "Suddenly there was no noise," Iooss says. "I looked up, and there was McEnroe. He said, 'You promised! You're a hypocrite, you're the biggest hypocrite I ever met.' " Iooss didn't know what promise McEnroe was talking about, since he had made none. After McEnroe lost the next point, he fired a tennis ball a few inches from Iooss's head. "That's a relationship that never got too far," Iooss says.
He had better luck with McEnroe's nemesis, Borg, whom he had photographed—and idolized—for years before they finally found themselves playing together in a celebrity doubles match on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Iooss had brought along his two sons, then 11 and seven years old, but to avoid any awkward situations, he encouraged them just to give Borg a friendly wave from the stands. "I couldn't even introduce my children to Bjorn," Iooss says. "What was I supposed to say? 'Hi, this is Christian Bjorn Iooss. And this is Bjorn Iooss.' Borg would have gotten a restraining order against me."
There have been two occasions during his career when Iooss was allowed to roam beyond the sidelines completely unrestrained, to go through the looking glass. He spent a season with Michael Jordan to produce the elegant book Rare Air, which climbed this year to the most rarefied air of all—No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. And Iooss devoted nearly two years leading up to the 1984 Summer Olympics to taking the photographs in Shooting for the Gold, a book on the athletes of the Games that was commissioned by a Japanese film manufacturer. To do that book Iooss had to quit SPORTS ILLUSTRATED after more than 20 years. "I didn't want to leave SI," he says. "It was like cutting my heart out."