One of a kind.
Originally published in SLAM 93
The 6th Man: Remember this kid? It’s not like you’ve had a chance to forget. The photo at left is only four-and-a-half years old, but in the time since we first got at LeBron James, much has changed (not least of all his hair). What hasn’t changed, at least on an essential level, is the kid himself: still down-to-earth (at least, when he can afford to be), still a prodigy on the court, and still possessed of a confidence that goes beyond what most of us can imagine. It’s not that LeBron believes he can achieve all his goals; it’s that anything less doesn’t even seem viable. It’s not that success is taken for granted, it’s just that failure literally isn’t an available choice.
Four-and-a-half years since he first appeared in the pages of this magazine, and three-and-a-half since his first SLAM cover, LeBron James is back on the front page. Sick of him yet? Five covers is a lot, especially in such a short span, but that’s just his style—accomplishing more, and doing it quicker, than you ever thought possible. As for this cover, props go to our publisher, Dennis Page, for a concept that, at least initially, had all of us tripping.
“You mean a king? Like, on a playing card?”
Well, actually, yeah.
From there, all praises are due to master lenscrafter Pier Nicola D’Amico and his roadtripping crew for great shots and great execution; to Keith in NYC and the Cavs PR staff for finding us the time and space to get this done; to Crystal at New Era for a short-notice hookup on the lids; and to Melissa, for turning concept into reality. (Hey, it’s not like you had a wedding to plan or anything…)
As for LeBron…we inadvertently coined a phrase as this issue was coming together: “Corny-proof.” Initially, we worried that this cover might be a bit much, but the consensus was that we—meaning SLAM—were willing to take the risk, while Bron was essentially operating risk-free. Think about it: You’re 20 years old. You’re worth that much money. Everything you’ve set your mind to so far, you’ve achieved. Why the hell should you care what anyone thinks? Hence, corny-proof. It’s a close relative of hater-proof (second cousin, I think), both of which are made possible by just that sort of previously mentioned, off-the-charts confidence. Trust helped, too—when Cleveland PR Director Amanda Mercado observed, “LeBron must really like you guys,” as our allotted half-hour photo shoot stretched to 75 minutes, we took it as a good sign. The feeling remains mutual.
But back to the question: Sick of him yet? Well, get over it. LeBron James graces this cover not to fill some twice-a-year superstar quota, but because he—and his story—are too compelling to ignore. This is the next chapter.