by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

cover and inset portrait by Juco

Like I told you guys in the Rajon Rondo and Kemba Walker posts, KICKS Mag is here!

And with all the lockout news we’ve been so diligently tracking seeming almost all bad, we couldn’t have been more ready for our annual sneaker blowout.

This year’s edition, our 14th, has three covers: Kemba, Rajon and this tattooed wonder: Monta Ellis.

How does Monta fit in?monta ellis

Very nicely, thank you.

You could make a case that this guy is the most deserving current NBA player to never have appeared on one of our covers, SLAM, KICKS or otherwise. You know, sort of like you could say he’s the best player to never be an All-Star. The last two seasons have seen him average 25.5 and 24.1 points per game, respectively. And these aren’t run-of-the-mill points. These are points scored by a 6-3, 175-pound dynamo who attacks the rim like men 100 pounds heavier. We’re talking serious degree of difficulty, and serious highlight-reel material. Add in his look and Southern flavor, and its exactly the type of player we’ve long celebrated.

And, like the other cover subjects, Monta’s footwear story is probably equal to his playing career in terms of uniqueness. Ellis, who will wear a signature model, the AND 1 ME8 Empire, if and when this season tips off, has been the best player on AND 1′s roster for several years now. Like the over-sized role he’s had to fill on the Warriors the last few seasons, it’s a responsibility the 25-year-old Ellis welcomes.

For Monta’s cover story, we sent longtime SLAM writer and Comcast SportsNets’ Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam to Monta’s off-season home outside Memphis, where the two chopped it up about hoops, shoes and Monta’s growing family and business interests. Like everything in this issue, it’s a great read.

Elsewhere in the issue, besides the cover stories on Rajon and Kemba, we packed the usual broad range of pieces into a very meaty 104-page issue (ok, so we aren’t quite Vogue, but trust me: 104 is a healthy book in 2011.) There’s Eric Gordon talking about his maturation as a player and the adidas Stupidly Light he’ll be rocking. We sent writer Maurice Bobb all the way to Paris to cover Quai 54, an incredible streetball event made extra special thanks to Jordan Brand’s financial and product support. There are also stories on Yao Ming’s shoe legacy, Swizz Beatz’ partnership with Reebok, Blake Griffin as the face of the Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011, Converse’s Band of Ballers, APL, ATR, BALL’N and so much more.

If you like basketball and shoes, you’ve simply got to cop this. Look for all three covers on newsstands in New York City starting today, while stores in the rest of the country should have it next week.

monta ellis