Tuesday, July 23, 2024


For 3 many years we’ve coated many superb basketball characters, however some stand above the remainder—not solely due to their on-court expertise (although these are all the time 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 varied methods, as we’ve documented their careers with basic covers, legendary pictures, superb tales, compelling movies and extra. 

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

“They are saying I’m hopeless/As a penny with a gap in it.” 

—Dionne Farris, “Hopeless

For us, at SLAM, at the moment, it was all the time that cross. The one Tony Gervino brilliantly used as cowl artwork for Challenge 8. 1995 ’til infinity. From the exit sequence that ended Jordan’s comeback. However made him come again. It was this cowl that made Shea Serrano develop into a basketball griot. It allowed a reintroduction.

The Anfernee Hardaway Expertise was one thing completely different. One thing basketball on the NBA degree hadn’t skilled. The brand new era’s first hybrid. Half Oscar, half Magic, half Gervin, half Pippen. All Tracy McGrady earlier than Tracy McGrady grew to become the subsequent Penny. Like a muthafucka invented strictly for Tremendous Nintendo NBA Dwell 95. By the point he appeared on his first SLAM cowl, he was already on some low-key legend shit. Memphis basketball God, Parade Journal Nationwide Excessive Faculty Participant of The Yr, Blue Chips co-superstar, NBA Rookie All-Star Sport MVP, All-NBA Group 1, NBA Finals look, chief of the sport’s new era of “We acquired subsequent.”

But what we overlook: He acquired shot. Forgot that every one of this profession known as his might have been only a dream, that none of it was speculated to occur. That the second that bullet entered his proper foot, ricocheting off the bottom throughout a drive-by theft in entrance of his aunt’s home in Binghampton in April 1991 throughout his freshman yr at then-Memphis State College (College of Memphis, now), the top was speculated to comply with. 

Hopeless. But, his “oh, shit” second grew to become his “nearer to God” second. He script-flipped what ought to have been his basketball and Black life stereotype of a younger child from the place “we” from getting shot into what Benji Wilson and extra lately Quincy Reese Jr by no means had the possibility to. Which is the a part of Penny we don’t focus on sufficient. The resilience of an 18-year-old not permitting the circumstances he got here up in and round outline him—however nonetheless form him. Permitting a bullet to offer readability as a substitute of despair, anger, hate. All of that’s misplaced after we have a look at Penny as a result of he made certain we by no means noticed what he noticed when he seemed within the mirror at that time in his life. His foot. A Penny with a gap in it. By no means once more.

As a result of a superhero emerged. A basketball alien. A 6-7 level guard with vacation spot expertise at nearly each part of the sport. Pace, bounce, vary, handles, imaginative and prescient, creativity, instincts, management talents, defensive consciousness, who was basically sound with survival in him that made him resistant to intimidation. Fearless. Younger, gifted and generational. Personable. Chill. Unassuming. Humbly boastful. Unbothered. True to precisely who he was. Robust sufficient to hold his NCAA squad (solely a yr after being shot) to the Elite Eight, then his NBA squad (solely three years later) to the NBA Finals. Second SLAM cowl, toothpick sic. Revenge tip. Blue pinstriped match. Shining like pre-green copper. 

However the cultural influence (nearly) overshadowed the magic (get it?) he was producing on the courtroom. His sneaker acumen and foresight made him illuminati. Foams? Him. Air Max namesakes 1, 2, 3, 4? Him. The one different basketball participant on the time to have Nike signatures apart from 50, 34 and 23. 1Cent, heaven despatched. However God had different plans.

The accidents stacked like cordwood piles. Placing a halt (not a full cease) to an ascend that was legendary. Centual. Extra than simply an athlete, he year-after-year inched nearer to single-name American icon standing by exhibiting glimpses and flashes of what he had left inside, of what wasn’t stolen from him. Simply because the sport pressured him to cease bouncing the ball by no means meant the ball stopped bouncing for him. A return to his Mecca allowed the world to see that his basketball thoughts and coronary heart had been far superior and in-need than his basketball physique and expertise. Deon, not Deion. His teaching, too, grew to become his calling.

He’s develop into the basketball equal of Gale Sayers, Stephen Strasburg. A GOAT for whom the one cause isn’t thought-about the GOAT is as a result of accidents beloved them a lot. That singular, idiosyncratic, unparalleled, one-of-a-kind kind who, if we simply talked about what they confirmed us—and what they did after they had been capable of play—we’d admit that they had been nearly unarguably the most effective we’d ever seen. Invoice Walton. Yao Ming. Grant Hill. Derrick Rose. Penny’s most likely above all of them on basketball’s “what if” checklist. Which makes “what’s going to by no means be once more” rather more acceptable.

And oh, one final thing about that first cowl, the “wrap-around” cowl, the final time we’d see Jordan sporting “45” cowl. Two months after it hit the stands, his alter ego Lil Penny was launched to the world. Shit ain’t been the identical since. 

Picture by way of Getty Photos.

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