Friday, February 1st, 2008 at 3:34 pm  |  69 responses

SLAM 116: On Sale Now!

Khalid Salaam explains how SLAM 116 came about…

Welcome to SLAM 116. Exactly one year ago, we put LeBron on the cover of SLAM 106. Since then he led his team to the NBA Finals and started this year with the best all-around stats of his life. But we’ve done so much on LeBron the basketball player, we wanted to flip it and take a look at LeBron, the marketing empire. SLAM senior editor Khalid Salaam wrote the cover story and he explains it here…

by Khalid Salaam

I was actually supposed to write this story last year. When we were talking about SLAM 106 this time one year ago, I wanted to write a LeBron piece about his off-court exploits and how that was as interesting as his playing ability. We all agreed that we should do one more traditional basketball story on Lebron first and then get into the other stuff.

In the meantime, Fortune magazine beat us to the punch, profiling LBJ’s budding business empire and what that means for the future of athlete endorsements. It was a good piece but missed a couple of things that I would not have missed. When I saw the Fortune article I was down on still doing my story. One thing I am not is a follower and I didn’t want us to come across as riding on some other mag’s coattails. Lang and Ben convinced me that our demographics probably don’t overlap much so most of our readers didn’t even see it.

I decided to write it, obviously, but I deviated a little from my initial idea as to make the story fresh, just in case someone did happen to read both. We scheduled the photo shoot and interview for the Saturday before Christmas. I hate traveling on holiday weekends so I was nervous about missing my flight therefore I barely got any sleep. My flight was at 6 and I went to sleep around 2 and got up and 4 so I was buggin’ in the morning. I got to the airport at 5:15 or so and was straight starving so I loaded up on granola bars and yogurt. The airport was pretty empty considering that it was one of the busiest travel days of the year.

My flight was cool except that I was sitting in the very last seat before the restroom and there were two women with babies sitting to the right and front of me. Babies on planes annoy me (no offense Ben and Ryan and whoever else) because there is always a good chance that they will cry. Or poop. I’m not much of a fan of either. I’m certain that when I have kids I will love the things I dislike about babies but until then I remain steadfast. The babies were actually well behaved, although one of them kept yelling and trying to speak to me. I kept my headphones on and gave the kid the no-expression, barely-blink look. In retro that was probably mean but I was really tired. I’m not perfect.

Never been to Cleveland before and I can’t really say that I’m upset about that. Granted, it was an overcast day but the city looked very industrial. And boring. The Cavs practice facility is in some city called Independence. Not sure why but I recall being intrigued by that. I’m sure there is a war story behind the name but whatever. I didn’t ask anyone because I was trying to stay focused. The facility is brand new, the security guard said it opened in September and it looked like it. I was chillin’ in the media lounge area for about 5 minutes before Slam creative director Melissa Winkler and longtime Slam photographer Atiba Jefferson arrived. The Cavs had another hour of practice time so we sat around drinking orange juice and talking about all sorts of stuff. Atiba hired a couple of freelance photographer guys who were there to help set up the lights and whatever else he needed. While still in the break room one of the guys mentioned that another man had recently hit on him and that he was uncomfortable with that but joked that maybe he’d let him buy him a drink. Atiba told the dude that wearing super tight jeans was a bad look if he was trying to avoid the advances of gay men. I laughed and wondered how a grown man could fit inside a size 26 waist in the first place.

We set up the lights and I got my notes ready. I always write out my questions even when I memorize them. Sometimes things happen and you can get distracted so to minimize the BS I write it out. Being that LeBron had to wear three different outfits and they had to get the measurements correct to merge the photos, I had to fill in as a “body double,” which is funny since dude is 6-9 and I’m pushing 6 feet and he outweighs me by like 50 pounds. I was wide awake but sorta hungry so I forced myself to stay focused. Atiba and Melissa had me doing all kinds of poses and I had to sit up high as to try to get the measurements right. I had to rock a Cavs jersey and everything. It was funny until I started cramping, I didn’t let that stop my hustle though. I was doing my best to be a team player. I feel as though I succeeded at that. Bron came in ready to work but was somewhat unresponsive to Atiba’s request to vary his facial expressions, Melissa’s request that he smile and my early questions.

Now with any interview, the questions you ask are the most important thing. That’s how you get the answers that you build the story around. When a story sucks I often blame the writer for asking crappy questions. My questions were good though, so I didn’t know what the problem was. Bron wasn’t rude or negative or in any way disrespectful, he was just seemingly bored and ready to go. Well, so was I, so I asked the questions with more vigor and swiftness. He started to respond better after the 3rd or 4th question. It was a holiday weekend and he probably wanted to be with his loved ones. I understood.

During each wardrobe switch I asked him more questions and he answered them with some cliche responses but he also did give me positive insight into what makes him tick, his role model (his Mom) and his plans for the company that he runs with his friends (LRMR). Cavs director of communications Amanda Mercado was with us at all times and she was very helpful with getting Bron to talk and pose for out shots. He warmed up as the process went along and what came from that is our latest cover. The photos came out well. I won’t comment on the quality of the story, that’s for you guys to decide (damn that, the story’s hot, they can’t hold me!!)

From then on it was cool, although I had to run like I was Edwin Moses to catch my flight back. We all stopped to eat and I overestimated my time, resulting in me flirting with an old-school asthma attack. All in all good stuff, and I’m interested in hearing the feedback once you guys read the story.

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    ON SALE NEXT WEEK (probably this weekend in NYC).

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks Khalid.

  • jozey

    1st. Aw I was betting on CP3 getting the cover, but dope cover anyways.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Also: Despite the fact that for a cover and story angle we focused a lot on what LeBron is doing off the court, it’s worth noting (as Russ put it to me over the phone yesterday): this is a perfectly timed cover, basketball wise. Minor ankle sprain aside, the guy is literally playing at a different level than anyone else right now, and really then almost anyone in history ever has, both statistically and with what he does at his physical size. So I hate to be immodest, but I think we hit a home run here. And as an added bonus, Khalid’s myriad fans will have a nice bonus when they look at the photo on my editor’s letter page.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    seems hot. Is any bobcats words going to bestow this magizine anytime soon. Thanks for the poster of wallace but i want words dammit words

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    One too many bonuses in that last comment. Let me get a life and go back to work.

  • Young Chris #3

    Bobcats suck BETCATS…

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com white hot eboy

    Can’t wait for the issue. Khalid the “damn that, the story’s hot, they can’t hold me!!” line is a great philosphy on life too. I know it will be hot. Be searching the mailbox with vigor.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones


  • http://www.myspace.com/impulseshopper_acquirente its just alex

    haha LeBron is making the same face in every pic. Can’t wait for the issue.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    1. Fortune didn’t exactly beat us to the punch. When we (I) did the story two covers ago (can’t remember the number, but the playing card joint with the crown & sword), we ran a sidebar in which Mav, Randy and Rich broke down what LRMR was all about. Fortune went into more detail, as they should have, but we were the first to get Bron & Co. to actually discuss what they were up to. I’m still proud of that.
    2. I am on the LRMR Christmas card list.
    3. Khalid justifying his lack of patience for babies on planes as “I’m not perfect.” LMMFAO.
    4. Can’t wait to read this story when the issue hits State College in mid-March.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    For real though, the cover looks really really good. Props to MB, Atiba, Ben, Khalid, and the not-at-all gay photo assistants for making it happen.

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Dope cover.

  • http://kb24.com Bigi


  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    ryan we can just send you an issue, lol

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    That’s why I love you guys.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Jake Appleman


  • rob stewart

    does this mean issue #117 will cover the All-Star Game? I sure hope so.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    Young Chris: its nice to see you have an opion. So does Star Jones. So does Rosie O Donald. Chris you are right up their with them. @$$ Hole

  • niQ

    wow.. a lot of the names on the cover made the allstar team..

  • niQ

    scratch that. i forgot baron davis didnt make it.. thats arms

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Rob: Considering SLAM 117 ships three days before the All-Star Weekend begins, I don’t think we’ll cover it in there. But we’ll have more coverage here on SLAMonline than you’ll know what to do with.

  • http://why-bother-reading.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    Okay,I’m demanding that the store I usually get SLAM get this,they’ve pretty much refused to get the last two,looks like I’m going to have to Kidnap someone’s puppy…

  • phunkykarma

    Who’s the guy on the cover ?

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Lang, who is covering All Star festivities this year?

  • http://kayceonline.com/blog/category/basketball-related/ Kevin

    whats the Shawn Marion piece about?

  • namik

    Cover is sick. Ryan is happy. ZOOM KOBE IIIs are ugly.

  • anotha dude from europe

    At least you guys got some LOVE for Baron!!! F*KK those coaches who voted!!! B Diddy 4 All Star!!!

  • Young C

    Time for some Trashtalk…This cover sucks. Im sick of seeing Lebron’s face on every other cover of Slam Magazine. You give almost no other players any credit. Every year its Melo,Kobe, A.I., & Lebron like clockwork. This year is no different. You never give any new faces any shine, even if they’re playing at an All-NBA clip. How about Carlos Boozer gettin some love? He’s been a top 15-20 player the last 2 years. Or Dwight Howard, who is probably a top 5 MVP candidate and will wind up making the All-NBA team. I understand you guys want to sell magazines and Carlos Boozer isnt exactly a household name, but I doubt giving one or two new players is gonna hurt your profits that much(although that might change with this recession).You guys should stop being so commercial or Im gonna have to get a subscription to DIME magazine, and even Im not sure I wanna do that.

  • Daniel

    Man thats no far Lebron is always on the cover.
    Next time have Andrew Bynum on the cover. Cmon Slam

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @TADOne: Me, Khalid, Ben and Sam will all be in N’awlins.
    @Kevin: Not gonna give away too much, but the Marion feature was written by Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko (and now of SLAM, too). And it’s awesome.

  • asfasfasdf

    dope cover but still wating for a baron davis or stephen jackson cover show some love

  • http://yahoo.com DP

    LeBron, Kobe, AI, Carmelo, Spurs. I’m glad I now know what the Slam magazine is going to be every freakin cover. play wit it.

  • slamma

    How ’bout we just call SLAM “Bron and AI magazine” from here on out? For real, though, I’m probably going to cop this issue.

  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    You guys can clamor for a cover of little known stars in the NBA all you want, but at the end of the day SLAM is a business and like it or not, the cover boy needs to be recognizable to the masses not just the true basketball heads… I like this cover by the way.

  • pero

    Some players that need cover love (not the usual suspects) include – Brandon Roy, Josh Smith, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum (with Gasol?)….up bout an issue with all the promising young stars together? Its been a long time since we had one of those.

  • Ben

    I subscribe and I still haven’t got the last issue. The joys of living in Australia.

  • http://www.tasa201.wordpress.com Tariq

    I was hoping Baron would get a cover, not just a feature. Oh well.

  • http://www.myspace.com/linkstigatorkevin Kevin Wilson

    I’m just glad you didn’t do the cover as “The LeBrons.” That woulda been kinda creepy.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks for understanding how things work, Co Co.

  • Roscoe

    Multiple LeBrons in different outfits? Where’d you get that idea from? (Nike)

  • Young C

    Dwight Howard is a little known star? Thats the point of putting guys like that on the cover so that they are no longer “little known stars”. If you dont give them face time, how will they ever be recognizable. I just dont want guys like Booze to end up like Karl Malone and other Hall of Famers who never made the cover yet was one of the better players in the league.

  • Mo

    Nice cover. Can’t wait to pick up my issue. Time for another CP3 cover.

  • k.o.

    i like the idea, it looks pretty dope….but LeBron again!?!? let’s get some new faces on the cover already

  • http://WWW.TheConverseBlog.com James

    Best part of the Cover…

    Slam Classic: Converse Turns 100.

    I can’t wait!

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Karl Malone and Dwight Howard have each been on covers (Dwight twice).

  • http://slamonline.com Holly MacKenzie

    LOVE “Three Kings”. The headline alone blows that other article out of the water. Can’t wait to get this iss and see the direction you took, Khalid!

  • http://www.slam.com Adam Freenie

    Thanks for listening to the message I mailed you about the Bron cover. If you read it.

  • http://www.slam.com Adam Freenie

    Betcats, the Bobcats suck, Cavs and LeBron are better,Mo CP3 can wait, and I can bet D. Howard will grace the next cover. Peace.

  • K-k-k-kobe

    Wow, a LeBron James cover. That’s original.

  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    SLAM isn’t the only media outlet guilty of only advertising the household names. Hell, if you pay attention you’ll notice that the only nationally televised games are a combination of the same damn 10 teams. It’s going to take a higher power (no disrespect to SLAM) to change the way players like Baron and Booze are viewed. Until then……..

  • http://AND1.com Lebron James

    lmao but i know this issue is bout lebron james but.. wuts the use of putting up threes pics of him i doesnt make any sense ight

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Young C: You know Dwight’s already been on two Slam covers, right?

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Er… and I know Ben already responded to this, right? Gang-tackle!

  • tike

    cover sucks!!

  • Boing Dynasty

    Iam not going to b*tch about another Lebron cover, cause im pretty classy. Just know, i will be very disappointed if SLAM misses the bus on a G State starting 5 cover(sub C-Webb for Beidrens if you want, for old times sake).

  • Young C

    I know Dwights been on the cover. But if i remember correctly the first time he was still in high school so that means he’s only had one while hes been in the league. His last cover had to be at least 2 years ago. Does he not deserve a cover for how he’s been playing this year? Boozer hasnt had one ever I dont think. And Baron has only had the Streetball issue. Its not that big a deal, but I just thought other players deserved covers before Bron got another one. It seems like he just had one 5 months ago. 2-3 covers in a 12 month period seems a bit excessive. And it seems like more than that because hes been on GQ, Mens Health, and bunch of other magazines in the past 6 months. I think I just have Lebron fatigue…

  • http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2007/06/coolies-how-britain-re-invented-slavery.html hursty

    fu(k, its so true from both perspectives, they (slam) are a business, while the readers to want to get some sort of variety of players. the same rotation of guys getting covers is frustrating, (im sure if you guys put yao on the cover you can cover all the bases). btw, that refers to the chinese audience (but slam is smart so they know this).

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Young C, Baron has also been on a Slam cover (April 02).
    Your LeBron fatigue is understandable — I got sick to death of Jordan around 1992, so I can relate — but at the same time, you need to understand that if Slam puts lots of relatively low-wattage guys from relatively unglamorous teams on lots of covers, Slam goes out of business, children go unfed, etc. Just worth keeping in mind.

  • Young C

    Yeah, I understand.

  • http://www.slam.com Adam Freenie

    Everbody listen up LeBron is BETTER than D. Howard and he lways will be, thats y he is on the cover. There are 3 pics of him representing all stages of his life. DAAAAAA!

  • tike

    So what your saying Jones is its not about Basketball its about dollar signs….i mean people do like change they like fresh new faces…I for one being a SLAM reader like to be surpirsed with a cover not call it before it even comes out…no knock on LBJ but i smelt this out….

  • Pacersfan7

    Where is Al Jefferson on the All-Star Team?

  • http://www.hooplife.ca slamma

    I understand SLAM is a business, and I know LeBron is going to sell more issues than a cover with a more obscure star. But there were days when SLAM would put relative (or complete) unknowns like Rafer Alston on the cover just to shake things up. That’s what I used to love about this magazine.

    I still think SLAM is the best basketball zine out there, and things have definitely been improving of late. But you guys are FAR too safe nowadays. Do something ridiculous for once, and sales will follow.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    OJ Mayo before he played a single college game, Greg Oden in high school, the issue that will be out in 4 weeks, etc…

  • Andy


  • Sumbo

    cool cover slam i’m simply speechless

  • LIL A.I

    That cover is nice.A.I could of ben better thoe

  • http://facebook 80 proof

    if you see a tall guy in dis issue with da money bandana shootin da rock, oh yeah dat was me straight outta alabama to da n.o. and got hoodrich. give me my propz kid!!!