by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

inset portrait by Kareem Black / @kareemblack

Like we always do at this time…

Yep. KICKS Mag is here!

Even in a non-lockout year, taking a break after our annualChamps Issue to focus on shoes is a nice change of pace. This year, with the lockout news so depressing, it’s almost essential.

And sure enough, we’ve got all you basketball and sneakerheads covered (x 3!). This year’s edition, our 14th, has three covers: Rajon Rondo, Kemba Walker and Monta Ellis.

As always, we were looking for compelling players who also have unique footwear stories. Our man Rajon more than fits the bill.rajon rondo

On the court last season, Rondo averaged 10.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 11.2 assists and 2.3 steals (the latter two each good for second in the League), firmly establishing that in terms of Boston’s MVP, the “Big Three” now all take a backseat to the “Big One.” And that’s exactly what Rondo is: a big 1, blessed with long arms, serious athleticism and a fine-tuned court sense that allows him to complete plays at both ends of the floor that most PGs wouldn’t even try. As well as LeBron and Wade played at the end of last spring’s Eastern Conference Semis, Celtic fans rightly wonder if things might have gone differently if Rajon hadn’t suffered that gruesome injury in G3.

Besides Celtics fans, one group of observers that has come to fully appreciate Rajon’s wide-ranging appeal are the folks at Nike Basketball, who went through their massive roster of athletes and made him the face of the Zoom Hyperfuse 2011. If these light-but-sturdy, dope looking kicks can perform for Rajon, why can’t they make better ballers out of all of us?

For this cover story, after we shot Rajon at his camp in Louisville, SLAM Editor-at-Large Lang Whitaker jumped on the phone with Rajon to discuss the state of his elbow and a whole lot about his game and his shoes. For fans of the Celtics, Nike or just of Rajon, it’s a must read.

Elsewhere in the issue, besides the cover stories on Kemba and Monta, 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.

rajon rondo