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Remembering James A. Drake Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

21 January 2022

James A. Drake, whose photographs graced the pages of Sports Illustrated for four decades, died from lung cancer at home in Philadelphia on Jan. 10. He was 89.

In those four decades from the 1960s to the 1990s, the monthly magazine put his photos on 79 of its covers, including rookie Joe Namath in Times Square in 1965. He caught Joe Namath, Nadia Comaneci, Bobby Orr, Arnold Palmer, Richard Petty, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Larry Bird, Joe Paterno, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan when their opponents couldn't.

His action photo of Palmer at the 1964 U.S. Open was used in 2020 on a U.S. postage stamp.

Drake was raised in North Philadelphia and became a star sprinter and hurdler in high school at William Penn Charter School. He set records in the 200 hurdles at Penn Charter and competed in the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.

But when his parents gave the high school hurdler a Leica for his birthday, he fell in love with photography. And sports photography in particular.

He earned a bachelor's degree in English and journalism in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania before spending two years in the Army.

After completing his military service, he worked at the Trentonian newspaper in Trenton and the Bucks County Traveler magazine. Not shooting sports.

But in 1959 he got his first assignment from Sports Illustrated in Philadelphia. He would shoot the squash team at the Merion Cricket Club for the last-page staple "Pat on the Back," which later became "Faces in the Crowd."

On assignment in Philadelphia that year, he met librarian Jean Casten. They married and made a home in a Philadelphia Society Hill apartment where they raised sons Chris and Patrick.

In 1960 he accepted a full-time position at Sports Illustrated. Among his trophies are Jack Nicklaus winning his first Masters in 1963, the 1963 World Series between Koufax's Dodgers and the two-time defending champion Yankees with Mantle and Maris, Frazier beating Ali in 1971 and the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

He left Sports Illustrated in 1980 to become picture editor at Inside Sports magazine. In 1986 he returned to Sports Illustrated, remaining there until 1990, when he left to freelance for ABC Sports. He retired in 1994.

His photos also appeared in Life magazine, the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.

In 2010, Drake won the Lucie Award for "achievement in sports photography."

In retirement he liked to paint in watercolors and pastels, watch Humphrey Bogart movies and go camping and hiking.

He spent his last year sorting through his archive to create non-fungible tokens to benefit his sons.

Drake is survived by his two sons and three grandchildren. His wife Jean died in 2016.

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