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.
For the opposite kind of experience, I'll point to Cal Ripken Jr. I wanted to do a shot at twilight in St. Petersburg during spring training in 1981, sit him on the dugout steps where the light, the sky, the field and my strobe were all balanced. I was sitting in the locker room with him, and he said, "The night game is what, six days away, 7:05 start?" And I said, "Yeah." And he went, "O.K. So we're going to shoot like at what, 5:07?" I said, "Yeah." Then he reached into his locker and took out a pad and wrote down, Photo session with Walter. No athlete had ever done that with me.
About 10 years went by, and I shot Cal again during the Streak. I wanted to shoot in late daylight with the streak numbers visible on sheets hanging from the buildings behind Camden Yards. He said, "Well, if we're gonna do it, let's do it right. We'll do it after a doubleheader." By the way, this was August, late in the season. He was exhausted. But he did it. He posed and then he came back to the dugout, and as we took a few more shots, his eyes rolled up in his head, and he started to sleep right there. But he'd given me the time.
Mariano Rivera is not only one of the greatest players I've ever seen in baseball but also one of the most sincere. He's such a sweet guy. For years he kept saying to me, "I have to get Derek [Jeter] a nice girl from the mountains of Panama."
I said, "He's really gonna love that." Very cynical of me.
Then one time I asked him, "Who taught you that cutter?"
He said, "God."
I said, "God did?" Being an atheist, I said, "God never taught me anything."