A shot across Sports Illustrated and their Swimsuit Issue’s bow, the ESPN Body Issue has been published yearly since 2009. Predictably, the annual spread of photos of the athletes in the buff has been incredibly well received.
In the four editions of the issue that have hit the market thus far, there have been some truly memorable photographs—as well as some that that were just plain silly.
Here’s a selection of some of the best photos featured in the Body Issue as well as a breakdown of what makes each picture so great.
12 John Wall – 2013
The athlete: John Wall is a point guard for the Washington Wizards. Chosen first overall in the 2010 NBA draft, Wall averaged 19.4 points per game last season as well as 8.8 assists.
Why it’s a great shot: While some Bodies Issue shots tend more toward the solemn and dramatic and the athletes therein are posed in statuesque manners, the photo of Wall is less serious, showcasing the athlete's personality. The strategically placed bubbles are a whimsical touch.
11 Gary Player - 2013
The athlete: Nine-time major winner Gary Player is nicknamed Mr. Fitness. He’s credited with introducing exercise to the professional game and was pumping iron and doing his trademark 1,000 crunches per day long before Tiger Woods strolled the fairways of the PGA Tour.
Why it’s a great shot: Player is 78. Let that sink in. He reportedly adheres to a regimen of 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 crunches per day in addition to other fitness routines. The shot is great because in it the legendary golfer puts his money where his mouth is. Nearing 80, he’s still fitter than the vast majority of younger men. The photo is vintage Player.
10 Chris Sharma and Daila Ojeda - 2013
The athletes: Chris Sharma and Daila Ojeda are professional rock climbers (as you may have guessed from the picture). Sharma is regarded as one of the best American climbers, having taken up the sport at the age of 12. Ojeda is a 33-year-old Spanish climber who is internationally recognized as well.
Why it’s a great shot: Naked people climbing rocks…what could be better? But really, the shot suggests what primitive man and women would look as they scaled cliffs. Obviously, the photo captures the virtuosity of the athletes and the way every fiber of every muscle is involved in climbing.
9 Kenneth Faried – 2013
The athlete: Power forward for the Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried entered the NBA out of Morehead State University. Faried averaged 13.7 points per game last season.
Why it’s a great shot: Combine a man who looks like a greek statue with flowing dreadlocks and ask him to go up for a dunk and this is what you get. It’s a fabulous showcase of an athlete at work. The lighting and motion in the photo are top notch.
8 Vernon Davis - 2013
The athlete: San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a two-time Pro Bowler. Davis caught 13 touchdown passes last year and racked up 850 receiving yards.
Why it’s a great shot: Davis is one of the more interesting players in the NFL. He owns a design firm, an art gallery, and is an avid fan of curling. Rather than posing one of the best tight ends in the game in a more dramatic setting, he’s pictured in the buff in the middle of a football field. We think the studio art major would approve of the unique concept.
7 Carlos Bocanegra - 2013
The athlete: Former captain for the U.S. National Team, Carlos Bocanegra has played in the English and Scottish Premier Leagues. Now 35, he plies his trade at Chivas USA in the MLS. He’s scored 19 career goals in club play.
Why it’s a great shot: Bocanegra has a reputation as an intense, gritty player. What better captures those traits then posing nude covered in wet mud, staring aggressively? The shot sums of the essence of Bocanegra, in addition to looking pretty badass.
6 Daniel Leyva - 2012
The athlete: 2011 U.S. national all-around gold medalist and the 2011 world champion on the parallel bars, Daniel Leyva is a Cuban-born gymnast who competed for the U.S. National Team at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Why it’s a great shot: How many people on the planet can assume the position Leyva does in the shot AND cover their junk? Capturing that feat in a photo is necessarily great.
5 Mike Smith - 2012
The athlete: Winner of more Breeders’ Cup races than any other jockey, Mike Smith began jockeying at the age of 12. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003.
Why it’s a great shot: It’s a naked guy having a horse lick his head, what better comedy is there than that? But really, the photo showcases two things: The bond between jockey and horse, and the fact that jockeys are ridiculously well muscled.
4 Anna Tunnicliffe - 2012
The athlete: Anna Tunnicliffe won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics for the women’s laser radial class. If you don’t know this: she’s one of the best in the world at what she does.
Why it’s a great shot: If this were merely a landscape photo, it would be fantastic. Adding a champion sailor showcasing her skills (and the athleticism required) takes it to another level.
3 Stacy Sykora - 2012
The athlete: Stacy Sykora competed in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. She twice won gold at the FIVB World Grand Prix and won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Why it’s a great shot: A simple black-and-white silhouette shot of Sykora bumping the ball, the picture is stellar portrait of a component of volleyball executed by a first-rate play.
2 Suzy Hotrod - 2012
The athlete: New Jersey native Suzy Hotrod (Jean Schwarzwalder) is a member of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby club. She was the co-captain of Team USA at the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup.
Why it’s a great shot: Looking at Hotrod’s figure, it’s clear she’s a legitimate athlete. Thus, the photo is a great PSA for the fact that roller derby is a sport. In addition, the decision to pose Hotrod in her skates while leaping creates a truly interesting photo that showcases her signature ink work.
1 Alicia Sacramone - 2011
The athlete: Gymnast Alica Sacramone won the silver medal as a member of the 2008 U.S. women’s team. She won 12 medals at the U.S. Nationals from 2004 to 2008. Now retired, she married current NFL free agent quarterback Brady Quinn in March.
Why it’s a great shot: Lighting like a Leonardo da Vinci painting and a pose that showcases the ludicrous athleticism required on the beam make this shot particularly memorable.