Fifty years of images, cultural shifts in sports

Sports Illustrated captures majestic moments

Like their nature photographer brethren, sports photographers must know their subjects' habits and habitats. Both genres require great patience and often the use of unwieldy telephoto lenses that bring distant subjects close. And whether it's a bald eagle or Michael Jordan taking flight, anticipation and finely honed reflexes are key to capturing majestic moments.

There's more to "Sports Illustrated 50: The Anniversary Book" than photographs. The editors have also included a collection of painted illustrations and excerpts from their most compelling articles.

The photographs not only capture some of the peak moments in the past 50 years of American sports, they also document cultural shifts. Unthinkable today would be images like a hockey goaltender playing without a helmet or face mask, or baseball players in the dugout smoking cigarettes after winning the World Series.

Clean-cut NFL fans of decades ago would stick out among the ranks of player- jerseyed, face-painted enthusiasts of today. The leaden beehive hairdos of the demure Texas track team contrast with tennis star Venus Williams's beaded locks flashing in the sun.

The SI photographers go to great lengths to capture these remarkable images, bringing in strobe lights to light up an entire basketball arena, for example. One freelancer I know on assignment for SI took a picture of every swing of the bat during a 1980s World Series game, in case someone hit a home run. Afterward, he tossed all the unused rolls of film in the trash. Today, he would just delete the digital files.

John Nordell is a Monitor staff photographer.

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