Blowing kids’ minds was enough to make it a great cover, but there was more to it. This shot was historical and influential. Timeless and trend-setting. A few hundred thousand people copped the issue; within a year or two, it seemed like everyone had copped the style.
SCOOP: The throwback thing—at the time, nobody had even seen that before.
PETER: This cover was part of helping to launch Mitchell & Ness. The jersey was so appealing, and there was no way to get it. It just added to the cachet. I’ve got the cover framed and set up in my office.
QUE: Him being in that retro jersey, him representing Philly in the way that Doc used to-—Doc had the respect of the professional fans and the streetball fans, just like Allen did.
AHMIR: Philadelphia has always been the barometer for the NBA player. Starting with Wilt Chamberlain, then Dr. J, and then Charles Barkley the generation after that. All those people are the standards for their generation, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Iverson defined the next generation. And for him to be in the emperor’s old clothes was rather ironic.
PETER: All the young people, I would say 30 and under, they loved it. But people 35 and over, they didn’t want to diminish the effect of the jersey that Wilt and all the other guys made famous—that would be disrespectful. But I always felt the other way. I think sometimes you need current players to reawaken historic interest.
SCOOP: The ABA ball was classic, too.
TONY: That ball was very difficult to find. My nephew actually has it. I was talking about how my nephew was a really big fan, and Allen goes, “Oh, let me give you the ball. What’s his name?” I go, “James.” And he writes, “James, Stay in School.”
So why, seven years and 68 issues later, are we still talking about this one? It’s because, having seen the image on a thousand bootleg t-shirts, mix tape covers and All-Star Weekend party fliers in the time since, we’ve never had a chance to forget. They say real recognizes real. To paraphrase: real remembers real, too.
QUE: I think that’s why it sticks out as people’s favorite—it doesn’t look contrived.
SCOOP: If you ask Tony about it, he hated that the wife-beater is showing, but that’s part of why it works. If you take that away, it takes away the rawness.
TONY: Yeah—it looks like we did it so we could show that he’s wearing a wife-beater underneath, but it was literally just folded under. We were in a hurry.
SCOOP: I didn’t realize how much of an impact this cover would have, but the rawness of it—there was no other magazine that could’ve executed this. That cover represents everything that SLAM is about. It’s like a Michael Jackson album. Everything just seemed to work at the same time.
TONY: Well, this was certainly my fondest memory of a specific issue. I guess it’s like a musician, where you’ve done a lot of albums, and then you do the album where you finally define your sound. We finally defined who we were with this issue. To me, this was our high-water mark—and if the lockout didn’t happen, we may never have done it. It was serendipity, and I think it holds up so well because it’s timeless.
CLAY: I would say it’s probably the most significant photo I’ve taken.
QUE: This was the image of what the new generation looked like. And I think it made for a really beautiful cover.