Thursday, May 23, 2024


For 3 many years we’ve lined many superb basketball characters, however some stand above the remainder—not solely due to their on-court expertise (although these are at all times related), however due to how they influenced and proceed to affect basketball tradition, and thus influenced SLAM. In the meantime, SLAM has additionally modified these gamers’ lives in numerous methods, as we’ve documented their careers with basic covers, legendary pictures, superb tales, compelling movies and extra. 

We compiled a bunch of people (programming observe: 30 entries, not 30 individuals whole) who imply one thing particular to SLAM and to our viewers. Learn the full listing right here and order your copy of SLAM 248, the place this listing was initially revealed, right here.

The method for “discovering” a highschool basketball participant modified rather a lot within the social media period.

To set some context: it was approach totally different. Within the ’80s, ’90s, even early ’00s, you’d examine an up-and-coming participant in a newspaper or {a magazine}, then catch glimpses of them on tv if one way or the other attainable (although doubtless not till they hit the faculty ranks). You principally noticed little or no—a small article right here or there with a brief textual content description and a photograph; in some excessive examples, some respectable footage on a sports activities spotlight tv present; and in some super-extreme examples, {a magazine} cowl, the last word stamp.

Then got here the web, then Fb, Twitter, Instagram, all that. Fairly quickly everybody had a digicam of their arms 24/7, which meant that when a highschool basketball participant did one thing superb, it instantly hit the web, and if it was actually superb, it instantly went viral.

In 2017, Zion Williamson went viral rattling close to each different day. He was a junior ahead out of South Carolina with a combo of flight—he may soar as much as eye-level with the rim and simply type of dangle on the market for a couple of seconds—and energy—he was constructed like a linebacker and dunked with such ferocity it shook the fitness center and prompted a frenzy amongst the children within the stands—that made each certainly one of his dunk clips, which flew round social media at mild velocity, a must-watch.

On the time, the world had began to maneuver with such tempo that on Zion’s recreation nights, these highlights had been viral by the point he awakened the following morning. So the place did that put SLAM, a publication with a historical past of “introducing” gamers like Zion to the world?

It was a query I considered rather a lot on the time. I had change into Editor-in-Chief the 12 months earlier than, a job I earned partly due to my means to assist SLAM compete within the hyperspeed media universe. And although the reply would proceed to alter (and nonetheless modifications typically to this present day), on the time it was easy: we’re going to place him on the duvet and we’re going to inform his story correctly, present individuals the true Zion. 

SLAM 210 was Zion’s first journal cowl shoot. By the point the duvet dropped, everybody knew his identify (from Instagram), however this was the primary time the viewers really heard from him immediately. We had an interview with a “longform” video (like, three minutes) and a slew of gorgeous, crispy images, which I half-joked on the time had been the primary look anybody received of Zion’s face outdoors of blurry digicam telephone footage.

That content material was the results of a day spent with Zion and his household in Spartanburg, SC, the place they’re from. There’s a mural in the midst of town that claims “THERE’S ONLY ONE SPARTANBURG,” and Zion’s stepfather bolted a basketball hoop to the center of the mural for our pictures. The pictures of Zion would change into iconic differently than, say, a 2001 journal cowl would’ve, however in their very own new-age approach. Months later, when each faculty fan base was photoshopping Zion of their favourite crew’s jersey, they meme’d our cowl photograph nearly solely. Two years later, when Zion was drafted and signed with Jordan Model, the corporate purchased the rights and used that very same photograph—humorous due to the numerous adidas logos they needed to scrub and substitute to make that work. The photograph appeared nice, although, and was nonetheless the most effective visible illustration of Z greater than two years after the preliminary shoot.

We continued to cowl Zion extensively following that shoot. His season at Duke was a blast, and we shot an excellent cowl with him for SLAM 222—The Future Problem—proper earlier than he was drafted in 2019 to the New Orleans Pelicans. He teamed up with SLAM favourite Lonzo Ball, so we shot one other cowl, a bunch shot that additionally included Brandon Ingram and Jrue Vacation. Quick ahead to summer time 2020, post-Covid explosion however pre-Bubble, we rented an Airbnb-turned studio, masked up and shot a cool cowl with Z to hype up the forthcoming return of the NBA. Just a few years later, in early 2023, we celebrated the then-surging Pelicans with a Pen & Pixel-style cowl that includes Zion, Ingram and CJ McCollum. After which final summer time he received one other entrance web page, posing on KICKS 26 alongside fellow Jordan Model endorsees Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic.

As I’m typing this, Zion Williamson is simply 23 years outdated, and although it looks like he’s been across the scene perpetually, his profession is admittedly nonetheless in its early chapters. He didn’t rocket to quick NBA dominance, however a number of the chatter about him not performing is simply nonsense; he’s a two-time All-Star who’s averaged over 25 factors and 6 boards per recreation whereas sustaining a 60 p.c (!) subject purpose share. It’s already been extremely spectacular, and once more—he’s 23! 

There’s an anecdote in my cowl story from 2017 that explains what it was like to look at Zion work out in an empty fitness center, the way it felt like every dunk actually shook the room, the sound of the ball smashing via the ring reverberating off the partitions. That intense, seemingly out-of-nowhere, shake-the-room power—if a sound may very well be a mission assertion, in that second, Zion produced SLAM’s. Daring, highly effective, putting…for us, it was a North Star within the type of a sound wave. We chase that feeling with our content material—our covers, our movies, our pictures, our tales—on daily basis, and that shoot crystallized it for me. Plus, it helped me work out what SLAM’s place within the lightning-fast media panorama ought to be. It seems to be totally different than it used to, however we nonetheless stand head and shoulders above the competitors due to our elite storytelling and the credibility {that a} SLAM co-sign offers. 

So yeah—we’re Workforce Zion. Without end. 

Portrait by Zach Wolfe. Picture by way of Getty Photographs.

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