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The Story of How SLAM Was Based, Instructed By These Who Had been There

That is an excerpt from Cover Story: The NBA and Modern Basketball as Told Through its Most Iconic Magazine Covers, which particulars the historical past of iconic sports activities journal covers, particularly targeted on 1984-2003. It’s been reprinted with permission from Triumph Books. Order your copy now.


Sports activities Illustrated took over a decade to determine a blueprint for what their journal ought to seem like.

SLAM took one concern.

The journal would change over time. Their voice would evolve. The journal cowl seems drastically completely different at present. However flip by means of a present-day concern of SLAM, and it nonetheless reads just about the identical from entrance to again because the very first concern, which got here out virtually 30 years in the past. 

The primary concern of SLAM featured short-bit tradition tales on Pearl Jam’s near-decision to call themselves after Atlanta Hawks guard Mookie Blaylock and basketball’s rising reputation in Japan. There’s a dunk of the month. There’s a one-page function on excessive schooler Steve Wojciechowski, together with profiles of faculty level guard Jason Kidd, perennial NBA All-Star Charles Barkley, and New York–playground legend Joe Hammond. There are full-page photospreads of the most recent sneaker releases, and a six-page photograph essay on playground hoopers across the nation, together with a cameo from a 16-year-old Paul Pierce. 

That is what SLAM nonetheless is at present: {a magazine} celebrating the game of basketball. An off-the-cuff voice. An all-encompassing strategy of overlaying highschool, faculty, and the professional sport. {A magazine} highlighting sneakers and athletic attire. A personality-driven publication. {A magazine} that didn’t tie themselves to the present information cycle.

Founder and writer Dennis Web page established a blueprint for what a modern-day basketball publication might seem like from the very starting.

“We had been passionate,” he mentioned. “The texture of the journal was like when you had been taking part in within the playground. That’s how folks spoke.”

Web page was contained in the Paramount Theater at Madison Sq. Backyard the place the 1994 Supply Awards was happening when report label government and good friend Alan Grunblatt tossed out the concept of {a magazine} merging basketball and hip-hop. He went dwelling that night and drafted up a desk of contents.

A Trenton, New Jersey, native, Web page studied broadcasting and movie at Boston College and received his first full-time job promoting adverts for the alt- weekly Boston Phoenix. Web page liked magazines. He dreamed of operating his personal at some point. The purpose was all the time Rolling Stone. Web page was working for an additional rock ’n’ roll journal, Circus, in 1980 when Stanley Harris known as. Harris was the founding father of Harris Publications, a New York–based mostly writer began in 1977 with a portfolio of special-interest magazines. That they had puzzle books and month-to-month magazines on matters starting from gardening to weapons. Web page was provided a job to handle a brand new guitar journal. It was an opportunity to run {a magazine} even when it wasn’t Rolling Stone

“I didn’t know shit about taking part in guitars,” Web page mentioned. “However I used to be good on the promoting and publishing enterprise. So I mentioned sure.”

He turned the writer of Guitar World, which arrived on newsstands in 1980 and have become the primary guitar journal. The success of the publication earned him lots of goodwill with Harris. Web page stored looking for the following concept. He satisfied Harris to begin one other journal in 1987. It was known as New York Discuss.

“We launched it throughout an enormous snowstorm and couldn’t get the problem out to the newsstands,” Web page recalled. “It was an omen of failure.” 

The journal borrowed from the ideas of Village Voice and the East Village Eye and coated the native information together with the New York movie, tv, and music scene. The newsstand was about taking a profitable concept you preferred and making an attempt to enhance upon it your self. A variety of these publications failed, together with New York Discuss, which folded after three years.

Web page’s new journal concept, impressed by his dialog with Grunblatt, was extra aligned along with his pursuits. He fell in love with basketball in sixth grade watching a excessive schooler named Lew Alcindor, turned a highschool and faculty hoops junkie, watched streetball legends at New York playgrounds, and joined the NBA craze throughout the period of Julius Erving, Larry Chook, and Magic Johnson.

However he couldn’t work out the desk of contents.

“I began by constructing a hip-hop journal about basketball,” Web page defined.

He had the 2 elements within the fallacious order.

One other lightbulb second hit.

It will be a basketball journal with a hip-hop voice and never the opposite manner round.

It will seem like Vibe.

It will learn like The Supply.

He pitched the concept to Harris, who requested him to get it on newsstands instantly.

Web page wanted an editor-in-chief. He known as Village Voice editor Tom Curtis, who mentioned no, however really helpful Time Inc. author Cory Johnson, a St. Joseph, Michigan, native who studied journalism at NYU and wrote for a bunch of magazines, together with Sports activities Illustrated, Folks, and TIME.

“Tom informed me this man who makes Guitar World desires to begin a brand new basketball journal and requested me if I had any concepts for it,” Johnson recalled. “I mentioned, ‘Abso-fuckng-lute-ly I’ve concepts.’ I used to be within the thick of studying how magazines had been made. It was what I did all day.” 

A gathering was set at a French bistro restaurant positioned within the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, named Raoul’s. Johnson sat down and pitched his imaginative and prescient to Web page. He learn lots of Marvel comics rising up and liked how comedian ebook author Stan Lee would have interaction readers in the back of each one in every of them. Lee responded to fan letters and despatched no-prizes—an envelope with no contents inside, which turned a operating joke with the readers—to anybody who wrote to him about continuity errors or typos. Johnson needed the journal to begin by participating their readers within the letters part.

“I introduced a fairly laid-out plan,” he recalled. “There can be quick options within the entrance like New York Journal’s Intelligencer part. There can be one-page profiles like Interview journal. The options part can be within the type of Self-importance Truthful. The sections within the again can be dedicated to angles across the enterprise of hoops. I needed the final web page of the journal to be a dunk of the month.

“I needed it to really feel like Surfer journal. I liked that journal a lot I taught myself to surf. Their very best was: browsing was not concerning the celebrities on the high of the pyramid who did it, however as an alternative it was concerning the on a regular basis expertise of the game. I all the time thought Sports activities Illustrated had this pyramid when it got here to basketball the place they didn’t love the sport, however as an alternative they liked the heroes of the sport. Their editors thought it was all concerning the stars and never concerning the sport itself. I needed to flip that strategy upside-down. I needed the journal to be concerning the expertise all of us had taking part in the sport of basketball. Sports activities Illustrated was solely about Michael Jordan. I needed us to be concerning the sport of basketball.” 

There was one very last thing they wanted to determine collectively.

A reputation for the journal.

The 2 tossed out each basketball-related time period they may consider. 

Crossover.

Dribble.

Jam.

None of them felt proper.

They lastly landed on SLAM.

Johnson was employed and moonlighted because the journal’s editor-in-chief. “I might be fact-checking a homicide story for Folks and I’d get a telephone name from Dennis,” Johnson mentioned. “I might hop in a taxi, race downtown to approve a format, then race again. It was like I had moved on to my new girlfriend with out telling my present girlfriend.”

Web page scrambled to put adverts within the journal. At present, he credit The Supply and Vibe for making his job simpler again then. Web page didn’t have to clarify what hip-hop was to advertisers. Guitar World artwork director Susan Conley designed the journal format. Johnson assigned tales to folks he knew within the trade, together with basketball author and New York–streetball historian Vincent Mallozzi, Folks reporter Nancy Jo Gross sales, and Vibe senior editor Bonz Malone. He additionally wrote a few tales himself and attributed them to made-up names within the masthead. “I needed to make it seem like an actual journal because it was simply a few different guys and myself engaged on it,” Johnson defined. “Russell Shoemaker, the senior editor within the masthead, that’s me. Russell was my greatest good friend from church. Shoemaker was my godfather’s final title. I simply put their names collectively.” 

Web page cringes at among the tales at present, particularly a SLAM NBA All-White Staff function the place the journal interviewed white gamers across the league and nominated Chris Mullin, Dan Majerle, Detlef Schrempf, Tom Gugliotta, John Stockton, and Rony Seikaly. Scott Hastings, a white energy ahead from Independence, Kansas, who performed 11 seasons within the NBA, nominated Karl Malone, who didn’t make the group. “The man drives a diesel and raises cattle,” he defined. “You don’t get any whiter than that.” 

Fortune enterprise author Andy Serwer flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, and wrote the quilt story on Larry Johnson. The Hornets ahead was one of the crucial thrilling younger stars within the league. Chosen first general by Charlotte in 1991, Johnson gained Rookie of the Yr after averaging 19.2 factors and 11.0 rebounds in his first season. He performed an above-the-rim sport and was a product of a UNLV group that embraced a hip-hop aesthetic. Johnson was a signature sneaker athlete with Converse, starring in a collection of in style commercials sporting a gray wig and flower-print costume as Grandmama, an aged girl alter-ego. He match the profile of what SLAM envisioned as their very best cowl topic.

The primary concern was lastly prepared for the newsstand. 

The duvet featured a photograph of Johnson hovering in mid-air sporting Charlotte’s well-known white-and-teal jersey. The basketball in his proper hand sat simply above the journal’s brand. Above the emblem was the journal’s slogan THE IN YOUR FACE BASKETBALL MAGAZINE. The caption mentioned LARRY JOHNSON, LIVIN’ LARGE! Cowl strains stuffed the remainder of the quilt, together with BARKLEY: KING WITHOUT  A CROWN; KILLER BLOCKS! SHAQ, ROBINSON, MOURNING, OLAJUWON & MORE; JASON KIDD’S KRAZY MAD MOVES; KENTUCKY’S BLUE MADNESS; SLAMBOYANT SNEAKS; and SLAMADAMONTH! Each caption was a manner to attract a possible reader into choosing up the journal.

Web page waited to see if anybody was fascinated about his new undertaking. 

“That was the enterprise on the time,” he defined. “There was no web, Instagram, or Fb. The newsstand was the true take a look at of whether or not there was a group on the market who cared about your concept. We’d have three points to check whether or not there was an viewers. If it bought, we’d hold it rolling. If it didn’t, then we wouldn’t.”

There was some concern about beginning a basketball journal instantly after Jordan retired, however they had been alleviated when Harris delivered some good news. The newsstand gross sales had been robust sufficient for SLAM to proceed. A second concern arrived on newsstands in October of 1994, with Seattle Supersonics ahead Shawn Kemp on the quilt. Johnson was changed by Tony Gervino on the masthead three months later when Shaquille O’Neal appeared on the quilt of the journal’s third concern. He had accepted a job supply to develop into a Vibe senior editor.

“We bought extra copies of our first concern than they did,” Johnson defined. “They spent like $15 million to launch it. We spent $100,000 tops. I used to be known as into their workplace, they usually requested me, ‘How did you do it?’ I defined how the journal labored and what our editorial focus was. They requested me if I might be fascinated about being a senior editor. I figured I might ultimately have a shot on the editor-in-chief function, so I made the soar.”

At present, he’s nonetheless pleased with leaving an editorial blueprint behind for his successors.

“The journal unquestionably appeared higher within the years after I left,” Johnson mentioned. “However the reality it’s nonetheless largely all the identical concepts I dropped at the desk is enormously gratifying to me and tells me I received lots of stuff proper. I didn’t get it proper as a result of I used to be a genius. I received it proper as a result of there was one thing fallacious with the best way magazines had been overlaying sports activities.” 

***

IF YOU SCAN THE FIRST THREE ISSUES OF SLAM at present, you’ll discover the quilt photographs didn’t come from unique photoshoots. The photographs of the early covers had been licensed from the NBA. “Not one of the gamers would pose for us,” Web page mentioned. “We had to purchase present pictures within the very starting.” SLAM had a imaginative and prescient to at some point comply with the lead of Rolling Stone. Founder and writer Jann Wenner was a 21-year-old UC Berkeley dropout who couldn’t get anybody to take his music writing critically in 1967 when he scraped collectively $7,500 from household and mates and satisfied San Francisco Chronicle author Ralph J. Gleason to assist him put collectively a brand new journal. The primary concern of Rolling Stone arrived on newsstands in the identical yr, with John Lennon of The Beatles on the quilt. The journal debuted on the top of the hippie motion and have become the definitive counterculture journal of their period, introducing a brand new era of artists, together with the Grateful Lifeless, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, to the world. Wenner described Rolling Stone as “a publication not nearly music but additionally concerning the issues and attitudes that music embraces” in his first column. The journal plucked writers from obscure locations and turned them into culture-defining voices. Their photographers captured defining photos of a whole era of rock stars. The journal’s portrait pictures of canopy topics set the usual for each different publi- cation. Being chosen for the Rolling Stone cowl turned the best honor for any music artist. 

“Jann broke the mould on various journal publishing,” Web page mentioned. “So far as I’m involved, they modified print publishing. The way in which Rolling Stone shot their covers offered the imaginative and prescient for each journal that got here after them. No one had shot athletes that manner earlier than and we needed to be the primary. We’d think about ourselves fortunate if we might shoot a canopy that was one-tenth pretty much as good as Rolling Stone.”

By the point SLAM printed their first concern, Rolling Stone was not a cultural drive on the newsstand. The journal, which was as soon as bursting with artistic vitality, grew right into a $250 million conglomerate within the Nineteen Eighties and misplaced the qualities that outlined them. The Rolling Stone cowl more and more turned a touchdown spot for established celebrities and was not a birthplace for brand spanking new stars. A author who joined the mag- azine in 1993 in contrast his new job to exhibiting as much as the occasion simply in time to see a cigarette floating within the final cocktail of the night time.

SLAM’s purpose was to develop into the modern-day basketball model of Rolling Stone, embracing the identical rebellious streak which gave beginning to the rock ’n’ roll journal three a long time earlier.

However they wanted to search out their voice first. 


Cover Story: The NBA and Modern Basketball as Told Through its Most Iconic Magazine Covers is reprinted with permission from Triumph Books. All rights reserved.

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