Top 10 covers that made NBA history

It's difficult to believe now, but the internet wasn't always as widespread as it is now. In reality, it was not that long ago: consider the early 2000s, when internet users in the most developed countries accounted for only 51 percent of the population in 2005, but 87 percent in 2020, only 15 years later. Some objects from that era remain in our homes, classrooms, and offices: blackboards with chalk and erasers, encyclopedias, old faxes, newspapers, and magazines.

Nonetheless, some of them unwittingly became part of mass culture. SLAM Magazine and Sports Illustrated are two examples. If the first, founded in 1994, is entirely dedicated to American basketball, with a style aimed at a young audience, the second is broader, covering every possible sport while still providing important basketball content to its readers.

Despite their differences, the two magazines have been synonymous with prestige and notoriety since the dawn of time: for a basketball player, landing on the cover of one of the two magazines guarantees fame. Consider this: how many athletes have achieved national and international acclaim simply by appearing on the cover of a magazine?

As a result, we've compiled ten historical covers of the two magazines, or those that have become true icons in basketball culture, and are still used as a reference point by fans, professionals, and casual fans in the following paragraphs. There's Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, and a slew of others; all we have to do now is rediscover them. Are you all set? Let's get this party started.

10. "A Star Is Born"

Photo: Sports Illustrated


Publication date: December 10, 1984

Cover player: Michael Jordan

So let's go back to December 1984, when a 21-year-old Michael Jordan made his first appearance in the magazine.

"A Star is Born," proclaims the magazine, and it couldn't be otherwise: in his first month and a half as a pro, MJ averaged 24.9 points per game, scoring 45 points in only his ninth game in the league, and setting the league's floors ablaze with his athleticism and speed.

To emphasize this point, the cover depicts the Bulls' number 23 standing out on three Bucks players, who, despite their raised arms, are unable to stop him: Jordan reaches out to the other, while the opponent to his right allows him to betray him. an expression of pain that is well suited to describing His Airness's display of physical strength.

9. "Rare Bird"

Photo: Dennis Rodman

Publication date: May 29, 1995

Cover Player: Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman can not be missed here. In the May 1995 issue of Sports Illustrated, the most eccentric player of the 1990s basketball appears, which later became iconic due to the cover photo. The then-San Antonio Spurs player (who would later join the Chicago Bulls) is dressed in a black bodice with a long zipper and two suspenders that reach down to the glitter shorts.  He wears a narrow black necklace around the neck, giving a look that suggests all of the case's sexual overtones, which, knowing the character, couldn't possibly be otherwise.

The blue parrot firmly on the player's right hand and the chair with an animal pattern, taking on the colors of a cheetah, round out the picture. In a nutshell, Sports Illustrated's goal with this shot was to send a clear message: Dennis Rodman is a unique individual in the same way that cheetahs and parrots are. If there are any doubts, the title Rarebird is placed in the foreground to help clarify things.

8. "Ready or Not Class of 1996"

Photo: SLAM

Publication date: February 1997

Cover players (left to right): Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jermaine O'Neal, Kerry Kittles, Steve Nash, John Wallace, Antoine Walker, Samaki Walker

The double-sided cover of the February 1997 issue of SLAM Magazine is one of the magazine's most iconic covers. The image depicts the 1996 Draft Class, which is unquestionably one of the most talented in NBA history, and thus takes up both the front and back covers of the magazine. The shot became famous for some reasons, including the players' expressiveness, the colors and designs of the tank tops, which were all in full 90s style, and, finally, the talent of the players depicted.

Three future Hall of Famers appear among the players in the photo (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen, here with the Timberwolves tank top, before being exchanged at the Bucks for Marbury, who instead is wearing exactly the Minnesota uniform). Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Jermaine O'Neal, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are four other future All-Stars. Note that Allen Iverson, the absolute first pick in that Draft and a future Hall of Famer, was not included in the photo.

The cover was so well received that SLAM recreated the shot on two subsequent occasions. The first was held at the beginning of the 2002-03 season and featured rookies Tayshaun Prince, Amare Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Nene Hilario, and Mike Dunleavy, among others. The second was in 2014, with the Draft Class of that year, which included Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Elfrid Payton, Zach LaVine, and TJ Warren.

7. "Showbiz & KG"

Photo: SLAM

Publication date: October 1997

Cover Players: Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett

Stephon Marbury was a two-time NBA All-Star and, going back even further, a very promising Minnesota Timberwolves player in his early NBA years before scoring like nothing in the CBA, China's top basketball league, at the dawn of the new millennium. He formed a potent duo with Kevin Garnett, to the point where they led the Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1996, and then repeated the feat the following year.

As a result, the October 1997 cover of SLAM Magazine was dedicated to them, and it became an instant classic: the two players appear in the magazine with a menacing gaze, wearing precious chains and watches around their necks.

The euphoria didn't last long, though: less than two years later, Marbury would have requested a trade, marrying to the New Jersey Nets to be closer to family and friends, despite detractors claiming the player was jealous of Kevin's contract. Garnett (far more profitable than his) desired to play for a larger market, where he could also obtain lucrative sponsorship contracts.

6. "The Man, The Shot"

Photo: Sports Illustrated

Publication date: June 22, 1998

Cover player: Michael Jordan

Returning to Sports Illustrated, we find the June 1998 issue, which features Michael Jordan on the cover with his game-winning shot against the Utah Jazz just seconds before the final siren, giving the Chicago Bulls their sixth NBA title. It's a cover that differs from the most famous version of the shot, in which Jordan stands with his back to the target and the ball already in the air.

The subtitle, "Why the jumper that buried Utah may not be Michael's last," was also intriguing, as it hinted at a glimmer of hope among fans and journalists that Jordan would return to the NBA courts the following season. Then things changed, and MJ only came out of his second retirement at the start of the 2001-02 season, wearing the Washington Wizards uniform for the final two years of his career.

5. "Allen Iverson is Soul on Ice"

Photo: SLAM

Publication date: March 1999

Cover player: Allen Iverson

Possibly the most well-known SLAM cover. It was released in March 1999 and features Allen Iverson with disheveled hair that was not gathered in the traditional braids. The player then changes into a vintage Sixers uniform, similar to Julius Erving's from the 1970s and 1980s. The ball he holds in his right hand is white, red, and blue, the same colors as the Philadelphia 76ers, and identical to the ball Erving used in the ABA, the NBA's rival league, during his early career. In 2017, the magazine reprinted the same cover on issue 207, but this time with Joel Embiid playing Allen Iverson.

Iverson was only in his third season as a pro when this photo was taken, but he was already on his way to becoming one of the league's best point guards. He played 41.5 minutes per game that season, averaging 26.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.3 steals. Despite these achievements, he was not selected for the All-Star Game that year.

4. “Rookie Of The Year? No Doubt. "

Photo: SLAM

Publication date: August 1999

Cover Player: Vince Carter or Paul Pierce or Jason Williams

SLAM Magazine released another issue, the 35th in its history, with an iconic cover a few months later, in the same year. Or, to be more precise, iconic covers: there are three versions, each featuring a different player. Those who purchased that number during publication could choose between having Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, or Jason Williams on the cover, or the three main candidates for the Rookie Of The Year award for the 1998-99 season.

Vince Carter is depicted in red, with the former Toronto Raptors forward holding a ball behind his neck while wearing a purple and white "Dino Jersey," which was later revived by Nike this season. Instead, the one depicting Paul Pierce has a green background and shows him holding four balls in his arms. Finally, Jason Williams appears defiantly in the latest version, holding a toothpick between his left hand and teeth.

Vince Carter, who averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game in his first season and captured every photo of the fans in the stands thanks to his spectacular dunks, was named Freshman of the Year. In any case, only White Chocolate and Paul Pierce will win an NBA championship: the first with the Miami Heat in 2006, and the second with the Boston Celtics in 2008. 

Vince Carter, on the other hand, has played in 22 NBA seasons, making him the only player in history to have appeared in at least one game in each of the four decades. By the way, did you know that in this piece, we paid tribute to his long career by compiling his top ten dunks?

3. "Love Story"

Photo: Sports Illustrated

Publication date: April 23, 2001

Cover player: Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson appears in the April 2001 issue of Sports Illustrated once more. The Answer figure is shirtless and wearing only the Sixers' shorts, with a chain around his neck. The theme could only be love, given that Philadelphia is the city of eternal love: hence the title "Love Story" to describe the often over-the-top relationship between the then-point guard and coach Larry Brown, as well as the bouquets of roses in Iverson's hands.

2. "The Chosen One"

Photo: prosebeforehos

Publication date: February 18, 2002

Cover Player: LeBron James

The cover that made LeBron James famous around the world. When he was only fifteen years old, the current Lakers player was regarded as one of the best prospects in the country. His St. Vincent-St. Mary High School games attracted over 16,000 fans per night. As a result, Sports Illustrated decided to dedicate the cover of the February issue to him, making him the first high school basketball player to appear on the magazine's front page.

LeBron appears in his Fighting Irish uniform, his left arm stretched towards the goal, his right hand holding a gold-colored ball behind his head, and an expression of surprise on his face. The title chosen for the photo is the cherry on top, as it earned him his first nickname: The Chosen One, the Chosen One. If you're interested in learning more about how the idea for this cover came to be, we recommend reading this article by The Undefeated, which includes many details about the day this famous photo was taken.

1. "Kobe Against the World"

Photo: fineartamerica

Publication date: February 2008

Cover player: Kobe Bryant

Without Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, this list would be incomplete. This issue of SLAM Magazine was released in February 2008, just months before the Beijing Olympics. Team USA's bronze medal performance at the previous Athens Games was widely regarded as a major disappointment for a country that considers basketball to be an integral part of its culture. It was necessary to send strong signals of redemption precisely for this reason. And who else but Kobe Bryant could be trusted with the magazine?

The player's gaze is intensely fixed on the camera lens as if to reaffirm his resolve to return his country to the top of the podium. The nation is then represented on the cover by a flag, which Kobe holds firmly in his hands while wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

The United States won the gold medal at the Olympics that year thanks to Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. It was the first gold medal among the major international tournaments since the 2000 Sydney Games. Kobe finished the tournament with an average of 15 points per game in eight games.

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