Jim Drake, who captured Joe Namath on Broadway, dies aged 89

Jim Drake, a top Sports Illustrated photographer who has photographs of Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Arnold Palmer and others, both in action and off their playing field, is one of the images. magazine’s indelible photo from the 1960s through the ’80s, died on January 10 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 89 years old.

His son Chris said the cause was lung cancer.

Mr. Drake came to Sports Illustrated in the pre-internet, pre-cable era, when the magazine’s weekly articles were a welcome source of light for fans coveting more than their local newspapers provided and Its photography is part of a tradition of excellence nurtured by its parent company, Time Inc.

“Jim is the best golf photographer I have ever seen – he just has a crush on the sport – but he is simply a great photographer.” Neil Leifer, who began working as a photographer at Sports Illustrated with Mr. Drake and Walter Iooss Jr. in the early 1960s, said in a phone interview. “Jim is the best photographer out of the three of us, but he has no interest in self-promotion.”

At the 1964 Masters, Mr Drake caught Palmer after he completed his swing, a smile plastered across his face while a large collection of fans rose to cheer him, some with arms wide. as he aimed for victory. He has photographed Wilt Chamberlain in various poses: playing bongos, jumping rope and posing, topless, during practice.

His lens caught the transcendent midfielder Julius Erving soaring toward a basket; Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench chases a pop fly with his tongue sticking out of his mouth; Jack Nicklaus, away from the golf course, is eating a plate of forty oysters in Lafayette, La.; and National Hockey League players, wearing no helmets, looked like surreal ice warriors in the dimly lit arenas of the 1960s.

Drake’s most famous photograph was taken not in a stadium or arena but in Times Square, in June 1965. His subject was Namath, then New’s bally-winning rookie defender. York Jets with a $427,000 contract, in full uniform.

“It just came naturally: Put him in the middle of the nightlife, the heart of Broadway, the perfect match,” Drake told Mark Kriegel in a 2002 interview for “Namath” : A Biography” (2004).

Shooting that day was supposed to take place at dusk, with the sky and silhouettes of the buildings still visible. But Namath arrived late, in a limousine, so Mr. Drake took a picture of him lit up with neon and flashing lights.

One of the photos was used as the cover of next month’s Sports Illustrated, titled “Football Goes Show Biz.”

“He was in a very good mood,” Mr. Drake told Mr. Kriegel, “so it was easy to shoot.”

Soon after the matter reached Namath’s teammates at the Jets’ training camp, Sherman Plunkett, an offensive tackler, gave Namath a nickname that would endure throughout his playing career.

“I looked at him, he looked at me, and a big smile appeared on his face,” Namath told Jets Wire, a USA Today website, in 2017. “He said, ‘Old Broadway Joe, Broadway Joe.'”

James Alexander Drake Jr was born on April 6, 1932 in Philadelphia. His father was a civil engineer; His mother, Jane (Fagan) Drake, is a homemaker. He was a sports star in high school and started taking pictures there after his parents gave him a Leica. He studied English and journalism at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1955.

After serving in the Army for two years, he worked at The Trentonian, in New Jersey, and Bucks County Traveler magazine, in Pennsylvania. He took on his first Sports Illustrated assignment in 1959 – the squash team at the Merion Cricket Club, near Philadelphia – and more, until becoming a full-time freelancer in 1960.

“It was my dream, Sports Illustrated or Life, one or the other,” he told The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., last year.

He aspired to work for Life in 1963, when he spent a week in Louisville, Ky., with Muhammad Ali, still known as Cassius Clay, as he prepared to fight Charlie Powell. Ali is a photographer’s dream and gifted some of his pixie dust to Mr. Drake, who showed him in countless scenes away from the ring: happily watching himself on television; posing with three smiling nuns; boxing ball in the snow; fake punching the portrait of glowing heavyweight champion Sonny Liston.

In an interview with Patriot-News, Drake recounted that Ali got tired of being followed by him and a Life writer, so “he pulled over to the side of the road and said to us, ‘That’s it. . You guys are killing me. It too much. I can not take it anymore. ‘

“And he let us out in the middle of downtown Louisville so we could get a taxi.”

Fifteen years later, after Ali lost his heavyweight championship, his track athlete, little-known Leon Spinks, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Drake’s memorable photo of Spinks shows him sitting behind a microphone strip, his head covered by a blue hood, smiling to reveal two missing front teeth.

Drake left Sports Illustrated in 1980, worked for a few years at Inside Sports magazine and then returned to Sports Illustrated briefly before taking a job at ABC Sports. He retired in the early 1990s.

He was also the photographer for the book “Philadelphia: The Intimate City” (1968), written by Gloria Braggiotti Etting, and made short films about the tourist attractions there.

In addition to his son Chris, Drake is survived by another son, Patrick, and three grandchildren. His wife, Jean (Casten) Drake, passed away in 2016.

Palmer is one of Drake’s favorite subjects. He captured his famous driving rampage – a photo he took of it, at the United States Open in 1964, used in 2020 by United States Postal Service on a stamp – and a little dance he did when he sank a putt.

But at the 1966 US Open, Mr Drake also captured a low moment for Palmer: He was comforted on the course by Billy Casper, who just beat him in the playoffs. Palmer’s head dropped, his shoulders sagged, as Casper wrapped his right arm around him. Jim Drake, who captured Joe Namath on Broadway, dies aged 89

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