Thursday, 4 August 2011


I remember my thirteenth Birthday, in May 1995, for one distinct reason: My older brother bought me my first issue of Slam magazine as a present. It was issue number 5. Timmy Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell, two fresh-faced Warriors, graced the cover. Two fly.

At this point, it's important to give a bit of background information. In the mid-1990s, basketball was beginning to grow in popularity in the UK (a topic I'll talk more about in the future). However, despite this, the newsagents only stocked a limited number of basketball magazines. One such magazine (actually, more of a newspaper) was called Slam Dunk and was produced locally. In the days before the internet, it was a great source of box scores and other NBA news, since it was published every Friday - a great end to the week at school. Plus it was dirt cheap. The other options for basketball enthusiasts were Fiba Basketball and XXL. The former was always a little outdated and concentrated too much on the European game for my liking (it was about as cool as Detlef Schrempf) while the latter was a UK publication which, well, sucked*.

Then along came Slam. As the magazine's tagline told us, it was the 'In Your Face Basketball Magazine'. It resonated with a whole generation of young 'ballers not just in the States but across the world and, in the years since, has become the best basketball magazine by some margin. Of course, owing to my OCD-like tendencies and addiction to all things basketball, I have since gone on to collect every single issue of Slam. Indeed, some of those early issues are worth a small fortune (as I recently found out when I sold a few old duplicate issues on eBay).

Anyway, enough background information. I would like to present the ten most iconic Slam magazine covers of all-time, in descending order, chosen by yours truly.

10th Place - Issue 2 - Shawn Kemp
Analysis: Before the babies - and before the burgers - Shawn Kemp was the 1990s version of Blake Griffin. What's not to like about a cover featuring pink and yellow text and too many exclamation marks?

9th Place - Issue 8 - Penny Hardaway
Analysis: The NBA was searching for the new Jordan - even though the old one was back in business - and Penny Hardaway fitted the bill. One of the few players capable of holding his own against the great one.

8th Place - Issue 109 - Dirk Nowitzki
Analysis: A golden era for Slam covers as the design team experimented with some unique ideas. This Sin City-inspired cover succeeded in making even Dirk Nowitzki look cool.

7th Place - Issue 106 - LeBron James
Analysis: The NBA needed a new logo, according to Slam. Something more modern. Something more... in your face. LeBron stepped up and delivered this epic pose. Jerry who?

6th Place - Issue 114 - Kobe Bryant
Analysis: Perhaps the most appropriate headline in Slam history: 'Kobe against the world'. At this point, Kobe had gone from fan favourite to arguably America's most hated athlete. It didn't matter. The cover was a classic.

5th Place - Issue 50 - Michael Jordan
Analysis: Who better to put on the cover of the much-talked-about 50th issue? The greatest of all-time. Three different covers, each capturing His Airness mid-flight.

4th Place - Issue 21 - Stephon Marbury & Kevin Garnett
Analysis: Showbiz and KG. Starbury and Da Kid. What could have been. It was fun while it lasted.

3rd Place - Issue 62 - LeBron James & Sebastian Telfair
Analysis: Slam should be commended for occasionally putting players on their cover based on potential rather than credentials. One of these players failed to live up to the hype. The other turned out okay.

2nd Place - Issue 1 - Larry Johnson
Analysis: It's tempting to put this first - after all, it was the premier issue - but, alas, second place will have to do. He may have worn Converse trainers and dressed like your Gran, but LJ was cool once upon a time.

1st Place - Issue 32 - Allen Iverson
Analysis: This throwback cover - a tribute to Dr J's era - was so iconic that Slam recently replicated it for their 150th issue, but there's no beating the original.

*Thankfully, approximately a decade after XXL ceased to exist, along came FadeAway magazine, saving the face of UK basketball publications. I was so impressed when I saw the first issue of FadeAway (glossy, artistic and insightful as it was) that I contacted the editor, Greg Tanner, and got a gig writing content for a handful of issues. The magazine has since evolved into MVP magazine and is worth checking out.


  1. Gotta say the Rose why can't I be MVP seemed like it could be on the list, pretty prophetic.

  2. That's a very good nomination, JD. I guess for me personally, that cover isn't 'iconic' yet since it's only a year old. However, that's unfair of me. It certainly has all the ingredients of an iconic cover: cool photo, great player and, as you said, prophetic choice of words.

  3. Chiming in as a former Slam Ed....
    1. Thanks for doing this. It's very cool.
    2. #32 is a no brainer for the top spot. Great call.
    3. Thoughts on how my own list might differ: #15, the '96 rookie class, might need a spot simply because of how great that class is... Scoop Jackson would tell you #18, Who's Afraid of AI, would need to be on here b/c it started the chain trend. Scoop claims Steph & KG rocked the chains specifically b/c AI did on that cover... #22, Skip to My Lou, which indirectly sparked the And 1 Streetball craze. No kidding... #29 Chamique in a Knicks jersey!!!... #66 Kobe & his "triplets. Purely as a visual (and I'm biased) this probably remains my favorite Slam cover... #71 LeBron w/ the Slam headband, which was his idea... And it honestly never occurred to me to have a Dirk cover in the top 50. But that's me.

  4. Ryan, thanks for checking out my article! It's obviously a real privilege to read your feedback.

    I actually considered all of the covers you nominated (then again, I think I considered all 151 issues at some point while choosing my top 10). The Chamique Holdsclaw and Rafer Alston covers definitely deserve to be right up near the top of the list purely because they were so ground breaking. However, from an artistic stand point, I just couldn't justify choosing them over my top 10 (although I suppose I should have stuck more to the 'iconic' covers, since that was the article's purpose).

    As for the Kobe, AI and LeBron covers you mentioned, they're all amazing, but I personally prefer the ones I chose and wanted a range of players in my top 10.

  5. No complaints, just figured I'd chime in. This is a conversation that occasionally popped up in the office (and probably still does...?) where we'd argue favorites and "best" and most iconic. Cool to see we aren't the only ones. Keep up the good work.

  6. Is there a copy of every issue (and every alternate cover) in the Slam HQ? I've always wondered. I want to frame every issue and put them up on the wall in my house. I'm trying to talk my girlfriend around to the idea. Not getting my hopes up though.

    By the way, Ryan, did you check out my top 100 players of all-time article? I hope you don't mind, but I quoted you for the Shaq piece - I thought you summed him up nicely.

  7. This is great, thanks guys. Totally agree with number 1. For selfish reasons (my first as E-i-C), I usually vote SLAM 106 number 2. Agree with Ryan that seeing Dirk this high was a surprise.

  8. I always loved the Shaquille "Victorious BIG" cover because of the tagline (and also because it was the first issue I subscribed to that had my name on it) and I liked the Timmy Duncan Ice Throne cover, mainly because the editors note about it (oh and the other TD cover, I think it was #72, because it's probably the only picture of Duncan showing any emotion ever). But great list, it brings me back. I used to be a SLAM fiend before I went to college. Coooool man.

  9. hey hey, so i read in your info that you own every single NBA all star game since '84 on DVD .... where did you buy all those??? and does that include the dunk contests and 3-point shootouts???

  10. J, the Tim Duncan ice throne cover was definitely a classic, if only because of the irony of Tim Duncan being 'cool'.

    (I jest. I'm actually a huge fan)

    As for the All-Star Games, I got them as a 29th Birthday present (nearly topping my 13th Birthday present). The DVDs (and dunk contests, etc) can be bought from Enjoy!

  11. Ben, your first cover as editor was one to remember. Dirk in the top 10 might be a surprise, but at least it's not Karl Malone. Thank goodness he never got a cover (although I always felt one of him hunting a little Mexican girl would be kinda cute). Thanks for taking the time to comment, it means a lot.

  12. Hey, I came up with "Victorious BIG"! Definitely the best line I ever came up with. Thankfully I can't take the blame for "Krazy Mad Moves!!"...

    Will, I just did read the Top 100 piece. Appreciate the shout.

  13. Will, for better or worse Mailman did get one: SLAM 76 ( It was a split with Jermaine O'Neal. Thanks again for doing this.

  14. Ben, I've got the JO'Neal cover so I forgot there was a Mailman alternative. One day I'll get around to collecting all the split covers (I've resisted for so long but my OCD is kicking in).

  15. Hey Will. Thanks for sharing this on our forum. Great list here. However, I have some thoughts:

    I also disagree with the Dirk cover. Artistic, yes; Iconic, probably not. I would also put 'Mique and Rafer in there, too. These covers made SLAM, y'know, SLAM. I would also include #33 with the Reggie Miller cover. It was iconic in a way such as that he IS Slam's public enemy #1 and for them to put him on the cover? (Not to mention the photo of Miller they put on the editor's note.LOL)

    And if we're also talking of the taglines as part of the cover and not just the photos, SLAM is also known for having the most iconic of 'em all. See #17 & #18.

  16. Thanks for the comments, scotty33. You're right, the Rafer Alston cover is more iconic than the Dirk cover. I guess I let my personal favourites cloud my judgement slightly. Maybe I'll re-do the list in a few years' time. That way the list might include some recent covers as well, which have yet to reach iconic status.

  17. Nice article and page! I have a question for you if you could answer please. With what issue did SLAM start including the Slam Up poster in their magazine? I have issue #1 and #2 and noticed that there is not a poster within. Wondering if it was taken out or if they had not yet started putting the poster inside. I also have issue #5 and it DOES have the Slam Up poster. I would greatly appreciate your answer on this. Thanks - Mark