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.
The idea for SLAM came to me sometime in early 1994. A friend of mine suggested I make a hip-hop basketball magazine. This light bulb moment became much brighter that night, and I published the first issue of SLAM three months later. The rest is history—30 years later, it is surreal to me that it has survived this long.
Keep in mind, there was no internet back then—SLAM was the basketball internet. The world is much different now, but what continues to blow my mind to this day is how many times people come up to me to say how much SLAM influenced their lives. It feels good every time I hear that.
Let’s go back to 1994 in New York City, where it all began. Cory Johnson, the founding editor of SLAM, and I began to plan out that legendary first issue. Larry Johnson would be on the cover, and we had features on Jason Kidd, Rodrick Rhodes and playground legend Joe Hammond, a column on Felipe Lopez, SLAMadamonth and our first PUNKS story on Steve Wojciechowski. No one had seen a sports magazine like this. If you were lucky enough to buy that premiere issue on a newsstand, then you are officially an original member of the SLAM Fam.
Then we were on to Issue 2. Enter Stephon Marbury—the first of a few players who would help define SLAM through the years. I’ve been following HS basketball since I saw Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) play in high school. And if you followed high school hoops in the ’90s and lived in NYC, you know everyone was talking about Stephon Marbury from Lincoln HS in Brooklyn. The Marburys were New York City’s first hoops family. There were three Marbury brothers who came before Stephon, and now it was his turn to be the first Marbury to get to the NBA. The pressure was real, but you would never know it from watching Stephon play. He was the best point guard since four-time All-City player Kenny Anderson. He had to be in SLAM.
Stephon appeared in two articles in Issue 2 (the one with Shawn Kemp on the cover). The first was for our inaugural SLAM High School All-American team. Stephon made it as a junior, alongside another junior, Kevin Garnett, and seniors Felipe Lopez, Raef LaFrentz and Jerod Ward. Plus, for our first-ever fashion shoot, we wanted to feature Stephon and his teammates at Lincoln. SLAM dug up some hoop apparel for the Lincoln players to wear like they do in GQ. Thankfully, Coach Bobby Hartstein was open to the idea, as insane as it was.
The SLAM team packed up our cameras and subwayed (no Ubers back then) out to Coney Island. This is the first time I met Stephon, and I will never forget it. When we arrived at Lincoln, the principal directed us to his class. Steph was sitting in the front row rocking a POLO hoodie with a fresh haircut in his signature style. We shook hands and just clicked. We bonded right away around basketball and what it meant to both of us. Looking back, I’m sure we both had no idea how it would shape our lives in so many ways. Steph represented a new generation of hoopers influenced by hip-hop that only SLAM could understand. The photo shoot went down without a hitch. If you want to see the spread, check out the SLAM Digital Archive (available at slamgoods.com) and look for “School Daze” in Issue 2. Not exactly GQ, but way ahead of its time for any sports magazine.
Stephon continued to play a prominent role in our early days. He was the first SLAM High School Diarist, which began in SLAM 4 (the John Starks cover—our first real cover shoot). I went on to watch most of his games his senior year at Lincoln and saw him finally win his first NYC PSAL championship at the Garden. He was Mr. Basketball in New York. I saw him announce his commitment to Georgia Tech and then watched him go head-to-head against Allen Iverson at MSG. I was at the 1996 NBA Draft when he was picked fourth by the Bucks and then traded to the Timberwolves to team up with KG. The Marbury family had finally made it to the NBA (for the record, 1996 is unquestionably the greatest NBA Draft class ever). SLAM continued to grow with every issue, and Stephon was on a few more covers along the way. He had a great but underappreciated NBA career. He ended up playing in China, where he won three rings. Go watch the documentary A Kid from Coney Island if you want the full story.
Stephon and I speak or text maybe once a year. I was just texting with him while he was in China. He posted a photo on Instagram of him running a clinic. He had his head down, dribbling with his left hand, going hard to the hoop. The same patented move from Lincoln that only
Stephon can do. I recognized it immediately and DMed him: “I know that move.” He replied: “Big bro, you know because you saw it live.” If you know, you know.