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SLAM Magazine: The Ultimate Basketball Brand

Zach Thompson breaks down the history of SLAM Magazine.

Iverson dunks Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since the debut of the DraftKings Marketplace, there has been an All-Star lineup of iconic athletes who have been featured in the NFT releases. This week instead of featuring one specific star athlete, the NFT focuses on one of the key star-makers of this generation, SLAM Magazine.

SLAM’s iconic covers have become the stuff of legend and are still viewed as a rite of passage to becoming a significant force on the basketball scene. Each of this week’s SLAM NFTs contains a visual easter egg from specific covers throughout the years — can you find all of them?

The first Logo Pass, which will be released at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday, is called “Bayou Bling” and will be followed by “Up in Smoke” at 4 p.m. ET and “No Luck Needed at 5 p.m. ET. The second day of releases is scheduled for Thursday starting with “Kings Wear Crowns” at 3 p.m. ET and wrapping up with the most limited release of all the NFTs with “Soul on Ice” at 4 p.m. ET.

Each of the five NFTs is appropriately visually stunning, so make sure to check them out and browse past covers to locate the source of each of the easter eggs. If you land one of these NFTs, you also receive access to future SLAM Cover NFT drops on Autograph along with early and free access (for a whole year) to the forthcoming SLAM Digital Archive (digitized copies of every SLAM issue EVER).

There were definitely plenty of great covers to choose from since SLAM has been a bi-monthly staple since it launched in 1994, a run of 232 editions, many of which featured multiple cover designs. SLAM was created to blend together basketball and hip-hop culture, quickly becoming the go-to resource for player spotlights, feature stories and basketball information, while always presenting itself with a certain flair and imagery that made it feel current and on-trend.

The very first SLAM cover featured then-Charlotte Hornets star Larry Johnson with a headline that read “Livin’ Large!” and also featured an article on Charles Barkley called “King without a Crown.” It also began a legacy of spotlighting basketball stars on the rise, focusing on a rising freshman at the University of California, Jason Kidd. From that very first issue, the magazine had a certain swagger to it and contained many of its most well-known features including “In Your Face,” “Slam-a-da-month” and “Last Shot.” “Slam-a-da-month” features a great photo of a memorable dunk highlighted by a short article, and the very first edition had Chris Webber throwing down on Charles Barkley. Webber would go on to later appear on the cover four times in his career while Barkley never did and Johnson never did again.

The cover of the magazine quickly became prime real estate featuring legendary stars like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Kemp and Penny Hardaway. As new stars emerged, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade became fixtures. Many of the current young stars in the NBA have already had their first cover appearance as well since Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, Devin Booker and Trae Young have all already made their cover debut.

The current leader in most cover appearances is LeBron James, who has been on 26 covers, giving him a slight lead over Kobe Bryant’s 22 appearances. With those two Lakers stars coming in on top of the leaderboard, it isn’t surprising that the Lakers have been the most featured team, appearing on 36 covers giving them a comfortable lead over the Bulls (24), Heat (22), Cavs (16) and 76ers (16), who round out the top five most-featured teams.

The cover of SLAM has also expanded to include some non-players. The first edition of SLAM without a player on the cover was the “Basketball on Fire” edition which rolled out in February 2012, presenting different ways to fix what the writers perceived was wrong with basketball at the time. In 2016, Drake became the first entertainer on the cover, appearing with then-Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Earlier this year, J. Cole became the first artist to appear solo on the cover.

While the covers are iconic, the contents are also important since SLAM always sought to represent in both photos and text the love of the game with a focus on authenticity that other mainstream outlets couldn’t sniff, according to the SLAM website. The stories in SLAM have always included plenty of basketball information and analysis but also focus on what basketball players are doing and achieving off the court as well.

SLAM has modernized and gone digital over the past several years, launching SLAM online, multiple podcasts, great video content and plenty of awesome Twitter content. WSLAM focuses on all things in women’s hoops, LeagueFits focuses on fashion in the game and SLAM High School focuses on the next generation of rising talent. SLAM also launched SLAM Kicks, which is a series of magazines devoted to sneakers and ultimately resulted in a book called SLAM Kicks: Basketball Sneakers that Changed the Game. Editor-in-Chief Ben Osborne led the way in the compilation of articles, photographs and analysis of the most important shoes in the history of the industry and how basketball and popular culture fueled the trends in shoes both on and off the court.

In the past month, SLAM has also debuted its ranking of the top 75 players in NBA history to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the NBA. You can pre-order the 124-page special collectors' issue online now, and it's sure to cause plenty of reaction when the rankings are finally revealed later this fall.

SLAM has managed to stay very relevant in the marketplace by blending nostalgia and staying on top of current trends. The cover itself has become art and a secondary market for the covers has developed both as collectibles and as imagery to be used on T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, posters and bobbleheads.

Throughout its history, SLAM has remained the ultimate in on-trend basketball branding and continues to be a rite of passage to highlight stars both on and off the court. This NFT drop is an exciting way to honor the history of the brand and also look excitedly to the future to see how they’ll highlight and promote the new group of rising NBA stars in the ever-evolving digital landscape.