Over the years stories still aromatic with the smell of liniment and sweat have graced the pages of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED alongside the work of outstanding photographers and artists. In this issue, we're making a particularly joyful noise for the holidays with illustrations by five remarkable artists.
For our cover portrait of Sportsman of the Year Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, art director Richard W. Warner sought out Larry Rivers, one of the most celebrated of postwar American painters. Rivers had no trouble containing his enthusiasm during their first conversation. "Rivers' initial reaction was to ask me how I had gotten his number," recalls Warner, who then convinced Rivers that the painter and Abdul-Jabbar occupied positions of almost equal eminence in their respective worlds.
"We wanted an image that went beneath the surface and got at the essence of Abdul-Jabbar," says Warner. "Kareem didn't really know who Larry Rivers was, and Rivers didn't know a lot about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or basketball," Warner says. "But there was one common thread that brought them together, and that was jazz." Rivers, who plays saxophone for an outfit called The East Thirteenth Street Band, offered Abdul-Jabbar a first-press copy of the band's new album, and from that moment on the two were in harmony.
For Frank Deford's essay on the state of sports (page 44), Warner wanted someone with a keen eye and a trenchant wit, and that led him to Boston artist Mark Steele. "Mark's work is inspired by the beauty and freshness of 19th-century English drawings and watercolors, particularly the work of Thomas Rowlandson," says Warner. Minneapolis-born painter Malcolm T. Liepke (who did the cover portrait of Joe Louis for the Sept. 16 issue) added a beautiful burnish, a study in oil on canvas of the life of naturalist John Audubon, to the words of Bil Gilbert in an appreciation of Audubon (page 126). "I pictured Audubon as a guy with birds in his hair," says Liepke, "but he started out as a straight painter." Liepke, whose style is distinctly turn of the century, isn't what people often expect him to be, either. "A lot of people look at my paintings and say, 'Gee, I thought you were some 90-year-old guy,' " says Liepke, who is 31.
Charles Schulz provided illustrations and Brian Lanker photography for an article on Schulz (page 110). Lanker also photographed Your Uncle Sam's Attic, a look at sports memorabilia in the Smithsonian (page 96). "Lanker is an artist, too," says Warner. "He just paints his pictures photographically." And that is how one of Schulz's beagle-eyed friends fashioned the accompanying picture of Lanker and Schulz.