by Lang Whitaker

Perhaps you’ve heard by now, but SLAM and Gilbert Arenas are collaborating on something special.

A few months back, we were approached by our people at adidas. They explained that this season, for Gilbert’s second version of his signature shoe, the Gil II Zero, they were going to make 20 different versions of the shoe, each inspired by an important different facet of Gilbert’s life. And, they told us, Gilbert wanted us to be a part of it. There’d be a bunch of people involved, from Benihana to Coca-Cola to Microsoft. And the only magazine in the mix? SLAM.

Were we interested? Of course we were.

So we convened something of a sneaker-designing competition at the office. We didn’t know exactly who else was making a shoe for Gil, so a few of us on the staff ended up working on different themes. Khalid designed something of a grown-up version of the shoe, something that would look great with jeans and a sweater. (That’s the way Khalid usually dresses, ever since he started copying my look.) I worked with famed SLAM art director Stephen Goggi to create a loud, fun and crazy shoe (much like Gilbert). And Ben kept it close to home, coming up with a shoe made almost entirely of pebbled basketball leather. We took a vote around the office and Ben’s design won, so we sent it off to be made. (Then, recently, we heard back from adidas that the basketball leather thing didn’t work for various reasons. So Stephen and I touched up our runner-up shoe and sent it along.)

The thing is, the SLAM Gil II Zero shoe wasn’t supposed to even come out until February, so we were all content to be quiet and wait until just before it dropped to tell the world about the SLAM Gil II Zero. And then last week in his NBA.com blog, Gilbert went and blew the lid off the whole campaign, writing…

SLAM Magazine has a color way too for my new sneakers so, I’m going to put it in their heads now, if they have a color that means I’m going to be on my next SLAM cover. It has to be. You can’t have your own color of my shoe and put me in the back of the book! You have to put me on the cover, right? So right now, we already know, that I’m going to be on my second cover with my new SLAM shoe.

We didn’t mind that Gil told the world about our collaboration — after all, they’re his shoes — but we were interested in the stuff about him wanting another cover.

So, with Gil in town today to do a media blitz for his new shoes, I swung by his suite at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan to straighten some things out. Here’s our conversation, edited to preserve whatever secrecy we could salvage…

SLAM: OK, the first thing I wanted to ask you was why should we give you a SLAM cover?

GIL: Besides I’m the man?

SLAM: Yeah.

GIL: Actually, because I’m more popular than I was the last time you put me on the cover. So I think I’m gonna sell a lot more copies this time around.

SLAM: Good, because last time it didn’t do so well.

GIL: (looks hurt) It didn’t?

SLAM: Nah, it did fine. I’m just playing with you. So, if we get you this cover, do you have concepts, ideas?

GIL: Huh?

SLAM: Do you have any concepts for the cover?

GIL: You know, I don’t yet. I have to get that cover first before I can come up with a concept. I don’t want to give you a concept and then have you put someone else on it.

SLAM: Honestly, there’s two people ahead of you in line.

GIL: Who?

SLAM: First of all is >REDACTED<, who is on our NBA preview issue cover out in a few weeks.

GIL: (Gilbert looks to the sky, doesn't say anything.)

SLAM: I think we can say that's a no comment from Gilbert Arenas.

GIL: Mmm-hmm.

SLAM: And then I think probably >REDACTED< is after that.

GIL: Well, I'd rather...I mean, that's a great two to be behind.

SLAM: I know, right?

GIL: OK then, can I get that All-Star edition then, or something like that?

SLAM: We can talk about it. We'll get you...um...we'll get you this season.

GIL: I mean, you guys are making one of my shoes!

SLAM: You haven't seen ours yet, have you?

GIL: No.

SLAM: Well, we did one design that was all made out of basketball leather with gold trim, and it didn't come out -- they said the materials just didn't look right. So we went with a different concept that's kind of crazy. It has >ENTIRE SENTENCES REDACTED<.

GIL: Oh wow!

SLAM: And on the back it says >REDACTED<.

GIL: (busts out laughing) Oh, OK!

SLAM: I mean, we thought the theme of our shoe should just be fun, because that's kind of what you represent in the NBA: having fun. But how did we get picked to do your shoe? They came to us and said you wanted us to do a shoe for you, and we were like of course, but we didn't know why you picked us...

GIL: I figured this would make you guys put me on the cover! I mean, come on! Jesus Christ!

SLAM: Did you read SLAM growing up?

GIL: (exasperated) Yes! That's why I was looking through the old covers, looking for my man, Penny Hardaway.

SLAM: Didn't you have a collage of SLAM photos on your wall growing up?

GIL: Yes, of all Penny Hardaway.

SLAM: Have you met him since you hit the NBA?

GIL: Yeah, I got his autographs and everything. That was the only person I didn't have, my favorite player.

SLAM: You got his autograph when you were a kid?

GIL: No, I just got it. I got his autograph like a month ago.

SLAM: Was it strange asking him for his autograph?

GIL: Well, it was amazing, because I put a blog in about him being my favorite player, and he called me. I was like, yeah, right, this isn't Penny Hardaway. And then we started talking, and he was like, "Well, if you ever need anything, let me know." I was like, alright, how about sending me about 14 of your jerseys? (laughs)

The SLAM Gil II Zero will drop in New York City on February 19, 2008. Only 1,000 pairs will be made, so if you’re interested you best get your kicks game tight. For the full list of shoes and release dates, check here.)