by Lang Whitaker

The other day in the office, Khalid and I were talking about the All-NBA team. We were specifically talking about the center position, and about how even though Garnett and Duncan each really play center, neither of them is listed as a center in the box scores, so maybe they shouldn’t be allow to make the team as centers.

“Besides,” I said, “Dwight’s actually a center and he’s pretty ridiculous.”

How ridiculous? Look at his stats — he averages more defensive rebounds per game than Garnett does total rebounds. Dwight’s playing on the highest level he’s ever played, and as the NBA commercial notes, he’s still just 22.

Dwight’s still improving, but at the same time, he’s arrived. And it was time for SLAM to get up with him.

Dwight’s first SLAM cover was when he was in high school, and then again his second year in the “come-up issue.” But since then, nothing. So we wanted to flip it, and flip it real good.

As for the concept, well, you guys saw the dunk contest. We wanted to play off of that, and we wanted to create a cover that showed just how physically dominant Dwight is right now. Also, we wanted to reflect how since All-Star Weekend, Dwight was in another level of celebrity. So let’s make him fly, OK?

Once we got Dwight on board with the idea, we had to figure out how to make it happen. Since Dwight’s in Orlando, we called Universal Studios and got in touch with some special effects experts, and the next thing you know we had rented a photo studio in Orlando and had Dwight hanging from the roof by a bunch of wires. (And then we came up with the idea to have Dwight wrap around to the back of the cover, which our regular back cover advertiser adidas embraced as well.)

I wrote the story in the magazine, which isn’t really a story like you’re used to seeing — go buy a copy and you’ll see what I mean. And in the story I wanted to communicate what a force Dwight is becoming on and off the floor. When I met him, he was 18 years old and was getting ready to go to his senior prom. Today, Dwight has a new lucrative six-year extension with adidas which includes signature product and footwear. Dwight signed a multi-year agreement with vitaminwater (which included immediate benefits from stock options after Glaceau was purchased by the Coca-Cola Company). Dwight agreed to a partnership with Midway Games to be featured as their cover athlete for “NBA Ballers-The Chosen One” and will also be included in upcoming projects. In addition, Dwight signed a multi-year deal with Spalding, is a spokesman for Papa Johns Pizza and will soon announce a partnership with a major entertainment company.

Obviously, Dwight’s come a long way. When I was interviewing him for the story, I asked him if winning the dunk contest had taken him to another level as far as people really understanding who he is and wants to be.

“I think it did,” Dwight said. “People got to see some of my personality. I think a lot of people didn’t really think that I had a personality — they thought I was just a regular big dude, always serious. I wanted people to see that I love to have fun myself, to entertain and be entertained.”

Hopefully this cover helps. Also, there’s a lot of good stuff in this issue, from an essay by everyone’s favorite blogger Rod Benson to a Q&A with some guy named Larry Bird. It hits newsstands this weekend/early next week. Go out and get it!