by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

portraits by Atiba Jefferson / sneaker shot by Tom Medvedich

As I say in my “Sneaker Pimp” letter and the cover 1 post, there’s no arguing that Nike is still the brand for superduperstars. Besides exhibit A for that, Kevin Durant, this issue also looks at the shoes Jordan Brand endorsers Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook will be wearing, and features Jrue Holiday and Iman Shumpert, who proudly wear adidas.

As we’ve mentioned in pastKICKS, though, Under Armour just keeps nipping at the other guys’ heels. What UA lacks in superstars they make up for in…superheroes? Not exactly, but the crazy licensed Alter Ego tops that Brandon Jennings (Iron Man), Raymond Felton (Batman), Greivis Vasquez (Spider-Man) and Kemba Walker (Hulk) are rocking on our cover do give off that vibe. Everyone in this crew of four starting NBA point guards is approaching the new season with something to prove, on and off the court. Brandon, who was philosophically weighing the pros and cons of the likelihood that he was done with the Bucks on the day of our shoot, is hoping to accomplish much more in Detroit than he did in Milwaukee. Raymond, who is constantly overshadowed, even on the Knicks, wants to get New York one step closer to a title. Greivis is looking to show the Pelicans they never should have traded him, and Kemba, who had a quietly tremendous ’12-13 season, is hoping that a new coach and a legit big man can stop the stream of losses in Charlotte.

These guys carry the underdog vibe they feel in the NBA into the shoe game, too, knowing that by rocking a brand that is still so new they are going against the grain. Armed with superhero gear and a fresh new shoe, the Anatomix Spawn, they all feel this will be a big year. They also don’t take opportunities like being on a KICKS cover lightly, which made the day I spent with them in Baltimore fun…and hopefully the story I wrote in the issue fun to read!

Nike, Jordan, adidas and UA just scratch the surface of what’s in this year’s KICKS. Between our First Step section, feature well and always thorough product sections, we also cover the likes of Above The Rim, AND 1, Converse, Li-Ning, Puma, Reebok and more.

So…who are your friends at KICKS rooting for? All of ’em. For real. We will always have amazing respect for Nike, which has outfitted the most players during the SLAM Era and was the sole sponsor of KICKS 1. But we like variety, too. As consumers, and observers of the culture we helped explode, we love seeing different brands do cool stuff. We also dig all the creative folks who are turning sneakers into a way of life—this issue alone features articles on a collector, customizers, museum, playwright, photographer, professor and retailer who have skin in the game.

Us? We’ll just keep being the “Sneaker Bible,” in all that encompasses. Please look for our latest effort on New York City newsstands today and nationally/internationally next week.

Brandon Jennings, Ray Felton, Greivis Vasquez and Kemba Walker

Click here to see our other KICKS 16 cover, featuring Kevin Durant and the KD VI.