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.
Paige Bueckers’ name is synonymous with greatness.
Gatorade Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year, Naismith Trophy winner, Wooden Award winner, Best Female College Athlete ESPY Award winner—the list could fill this entire page.
Her name is one that the world has become well accustomed to hearing, from her ninth grade phenom days all the way through to the Madness of March.
SLAM has been a part of Bueckers’ journey since the summer before her senior year, when SLAM high school videographers and photographers would pull up to her AAU tournaments and be amazed by what they were witnessing. It continued in the fall of her senior year, when the Minnesota phenom got her first feature in our iconic pages.
Not long after that, we got to see who Paige was not only as a hooper but as a person, through WSLAM’s first season of “All Eyes On Us”—a digital video series that follows a high school team through a full season—where Bueckers and the Hopkins Royals were on a mission to bring home the program’s first-ever national title. Through that series, the world got to see what our staff saw every time we sat to speak with her for an interview: a superstar.
She was a hooper with no fear of going for tough buckets who had ruthless handles that dropped defenders almost every game and a passing style so smooth that her coaches compared her to Magic Johnson.
But also, a person with an aura so special that she lifted up everyone around her, both on and off the court. We were with her when she copped a pair of Jordan XI Breds (a “must have” for sneakerheads, as she put it), and we were there when she jokingly messed with her teammates on the bus to away games.
Then the pandemic shut the world down just as Paige and her teammates were in the locker room preparing for their state championship game, and we witnessed the heartbreak of a potential historic season cut short. In the “All Eyes On Us” season 1 finale, Bueckers was raw and emotional about what that season meant to her and her teammates.
As Paige made history in Minnesota that season, she made history for SLAM, too, becoming the first high school girl to be featured on our cover (SLAM 226). It feels like I was in that gym just yesterday, watching the future superstar step onto the set wearing “Pinnacle” Air Jordan VIs. That day, everyone knew they were in the presence of greatness.
Her freshman year at UConn put the world on notice once again, when she won just about every award possible in NCAA women’s hoops, all while trying to recruit her best friend and the top prospect in the class of 2021, Azzi Fudd. Once Azzi locked in her commitment, we linked up with the backcourt duo and shot another historic cover, for SLAM 235, the “New World Issue,” a themed issue about the way the hoops world was changing in real time.
While Bueckers has cemented herself in history with all she’s achieved at the NCAA level, her story is just beginning. Paige is a competitor at heart, and in what could be her final season in Storrs, she has her sights set on bringing home a national championship. Bueckers will be eligible for the WNBA draft this spring, and whether she decides to go this year or use her last year of college eligibility, she’ll sooner or later become the future of the W.
Paige has meant so much to SLAM because of what we’ve built together over the years. From iconic covers to months of capturing her final season in high school, Paige is a legend in the SLAM halls—and I mean that quite literally. Her cover photo takes up a full wall inside SLAM HQ. She was the start of SLAM’s expansion into girls grassroots basketball, and we’ve gotten to witness her journey from the start. Whether this year or next, Paige will hear her name called at the WNBA Draft, and as she walks across that stage, you better believe we’ll already be cooking up an exciting way to document the next chapter of her journey.
Photo by Johnnie Izquierdo.