For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more.
We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.
An argument could be made that 2019 was an important peak in high school basketball. Hear us out for a bit. While 2017 and 2018 saw LaMelo Ball and Zion Williamson bring new levels of eyeballs into the high school hoops space, it led to newfound momentum and interest in 2019. And although this new group of kids may have not garnered the same type of attention that LaMelo and Zion did individually, as a whole—collectively—they were rock stars, too. More specifically: Jalen Green, Josh Christopher and Sharife Cooper.
They checked all the boxes on and off the court—each one had the perfect combo of skills and flair that drew large crowds in person and made for some very fun highlight mixes online. And then, off the court, they also happened to be the cool kids of their class: swaggy and fashion-forward, they knew how to utilize social media (and build an audience) impeccably and were top-tier pros when it came to on-camera interviews.
Jalen, out of Fresno, CA, was a top-three prospect in the class. His speed, explosiveness and hangtime made him an automatic fan favorite. Then you had Josh, also from Cali, but residing in Los Angeles. His family was no stranger to the sport, with his brother Patrick having logged some minutes in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, as well as in Summer League, the G League (D-League at the time) and overseas.
And then there was Sharife. While Jalen and Josh were shooting guards, Sharife was a pure point guard. And although he was smaller in stature, his confidence and swagger were on the very same level as theirs, or anyone else’s, for that matter. He hooped out of Atlanta and shared the court at McEachern HS with now-Cavs forward Isaac Okoro. Like Josh, he also came from a family of athletes; his sister, Te’a, hooped collegiately before joining the L.A. Sparks in the WNBA.
All roads led to a mid-August weekend in NYC, when all three arrived in the Big Apple to partake in the SLAM Summer Classic Vol. 2—where the shoot for the iconic trio’s cover came to life. It’s one of those things where you look back and notice that all aspects of the aesthetics were spot on: the seamless backdrop color, their uniform colorways, their poses, their sneakers, their facial expressions. The most impressive part is that it took little art direction from our end to get them to execute the cover shot or any other flicks. We just put them in front of the camera and let them do their thing.
That’s what makes this trio so unique: it was all effortless. They understood media—both social media and traditional media. They understood branding. Despite their young ages, they had an impressive understanding of the game, on and off the court. And the hoops community took notice. This part isn’t subjective. It’s quantifiable. If you look at the view counts and engagement for video posts focused on this trio back in 2019, the numbers are as high as anyone we’ve ever covered.
Speaking of coverage, another reason Jalen, Josh and Sharife hold such a strong presence in SLAM’s heart is that their rise came at a time when we were making a big push in the high school media space. Yes, SLAM had always covered HS hoops in some capacity—check our digital archive for LeBron’s HS shoots, our print HS Diary column, our beloved PUNKS section, and early in-depth coverage of the Ball brothers and Zion Williamson, among many others. But there hadn’t been a dedicated HS team internally focused on the space until then. By 2019, we had shooters attending HS games across the country on a nightly basis and dedicated social pages across Twitter, Instagram and YouTube that exclusively served HS hoops, and no one in the industry was churning out “Day in the Life” episodes with the top recruits in the country as consistently as we were. So, while we certainly helped raise the profiles of the trio at the time with our coverage, they also helped raise our profile in the HS space by allowing us in and trusting us to tell their stories.
And if we needed another reason to have Jalen, Josh and Sharife up in our rafters, they were also members of the inaugural SLAM Summer Classic Vol. 1 in 2018, and all three returned the following year for Vol. 2—a game and postgame celebration that our audience still talks about to this day. You don’t believe us when we say they were rock stars? Just check out the video online of kids running through the streets of New York City following the players’ bus after the game. For many blocks.
Today, all three are still pushing hard on their NBA dreams—Jalen is playing a major role with the Houston Rockets (where he coincidently hooped with Josh for two seasons), while Josh and Sharife are still solidifying their places in the L.
One thing is for certain, though: All three are legends in SLAM’s history.
All portraits by Jon Lopez.