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Thursday, January 31st, 2013 at 10:13 am  |  30 responses

SLAM 166: On Sale Now!

Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook are changing the game.

by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

Russell Westbrook photographed by Ahmed Klink | Blake Griffin photographed by Tom Medvedich

Months ago, when we first sat down in the office and began planning SLAM 166, a couple names came to mind as potential cover options. We discussed some of the usual star suspects, and we talked about some unlikely non-star candidates. Ultimately, with the knowledge that SLAM 166 would serve as our annual on-sale-around-All-Star-Weekend issue, we decided on the two guys you see on the covers above and below.

Blake and Russell. Griffin and Westbrook.

Odd cover pairing? Hardly.

Originally, we had the urge to get Griffin and Westbrook together in a room and interview and photograph them together for one cover. The cover line would have been something about them being “flight brothers” or “rising”—literally—“stars.” As time wore on though, aside from realizing the logistical nightmare this idea would pose (even with the help of Jordan Brand, who inked endorsement deals with both guys this past summer), we came to the conclusion that the pairing seemed too forced to be real. After all, highlight hops and Jordan aside, what do Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook have in common?

As it turns out—though we ultimately shot two separate covers and wrote two separate stories—the answer is a lot.

There is the obvious. Both Blake Griffin, 23, and Russell Westbrook, 24, are, of course, in the 99th percentile of athleticism. When it comes to Griffin, L.A. Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe once told me that playing with the power forward is as easy as, “just throw it up at the rim and he goes and gets it.”

Kendrick Perkins, Westbrook’s OKC Thunder teammate, takes it to the same place when talking about his point guard. “He might be the most athletic player to ever play the point guard position,” Perkins told me. “And I’m not just talking about how high he can jump, I’m talking about how fast he is.”

On a little less of an obvious level, Griffin, who boasts averages of 18.4 ppg and 8.5 rpg, and Westbrook, who holds his own with 22.5 ppg and 8.4 apg, are known around the League as extremely hard workers.

“When nobody is guarding him, he goes through a drill as if two people are guarding him,” Jamal Crawford, lynchpin of the Clips bench, says of  Griffin. “It’s a little unbelievable seeing his drive. He wants to be great. He wants to go down in history as one of the greatest.”

As does Westbrook, of whom Coach Scott Brooks says, “I know why he’s one of the top players in the League: because he has a mindset to want to get better everyday. The greats have it, and they have the talent and the skill set along with that mindset, and that’s what separates the greats from the rest of the players.”

Maybe most importantly, at least to fans of the Clippers and Thunder, Griffin and Westbrook both place winning above everything else.

Griffin told me, when I was writing his first cover story two winters ago, that “I would give up every single one of those [highlight] plays for a win.”

More recently, Westbrook—whom I spent the better part of a day with in OKC; senior writer Nima Zarrabi did the same with Griffin in L.A.—says “winning is all that matters. Until we get some Championships around here, I won’t feel like I’ve done something.”

External ties be damned, because really, if you dive a little deeper, Blake and Russell are similar because they’re different—different from their peers, different from their perceptions, just plain different.

One of the biggest differences is the divide between their on – and off-court personas. For at least 82 games a season, Griffin is a big bully who sneers and jackhammers his way to the basket.

When he’s not wearing a jersey, though, as most people know by now, Griffin frequently flashes a dry sense of humor and is a pleasure to be around. “He enjoys life,” Blake’s father, Coach Tommy, once told me. “Let’s say that: He enjoys it.”

Westbrook, likewise, scowls and stares and does everything in his power to come off, as one person close with him termed it, like a villain while he’s on the court. That’s not really who he is, in case you were wondering.

“When you see him in community events and when he’s visiting hospitals and with the young fanbase, he’s the most charming, friendly, lovable player that you can ever be around,” says Coach Brooks. “But on the court—and I like it—he doesn’t like 29 other point guards. That’s how you compete in this League. You don’t have to disrespect them, but you don’t have to be friendly with them.”

Blake and Russell. Griffin and Westbrook.

For much more on what we learned in our time with them—as always, don’t get confused; this is a cover post and not a cover story—be sure to read both cover stories as they appear in the magazine.

While the issue centers around these two rising All-Stars, there is plenty more good content to go around. From James Harden and Nicolas Batum features, to an Austin Nichols story and Sam Jones Old School, to a Penny Hardaway interview and plenty more, SLAM 166 is worth the read.

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  • Max

    Everything is cool, except Westbrooks shoes.

  • richard

    when is the issue out

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    YES YES

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    We saw it on subway platforms in the City this morning. Nationally? Next week

  • richard

    do overseas readers like me in singapore see both covers?if not which one will we get?

  • http://twitter.com/ReeseReport Maurice Bobb™

    Double. Boom.

  • ByAnyMeansNecessary

    Can’t wait for it to arrive in the mail. Looking forward to reading the Westbrook cover story.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    BOTH issues will be on all stores/newsstands where SLAM is sold in the US. Internationally, I THINK they both will. If only one I think it would be Westbrook. If they don’t have what you like you can always go to our back issue link in a couple weeks and order whichever one you want.

  • Francis Harden

    Nice Jordan Brand ads!

  • AlbertBarr

    WOW. These are amazing covers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.brodes Jay Brodes

    nice!!! i will cop the russell westbrook!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Gilbert/100001749589586 Mike Gilbert

    Looks like Slam is making two covers from now on. Less of a chance of getting Rudy Gayed

  • spit hot fiyah

    these covers have been brought to you by jordan brand!

  • Jesse

    These look amazing. Definitely looking forward to reading both cover stories. And the interview with my old fav Penny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/HolyBaller Dillan Leu

    Those are an odd choice considering the jersey lol.

  • Thunnderhead

    OKC in LA and LA in OKC.

  • Bravo

    Sick demar derozan in the last issue of slam now Amir Johnson is in slam this month. They really showing love for my Toronto raptors!

  • badlikeme

    Griffin did not change the game nor revolutionize anything. Westbrook too.

  • Llype Price

    Neither of them have revolutionized a thing. Who writes this..high school freshmen? 2nd of all, Blake Griffin looks as if he belongs on the Today Show. Nothing but make-up and lighting effects. Come on man – you’re a baller! Or at least a dunker, not much to watch besides that. And lastly, over the years SLAM magazines have gotten thinner yet have more commercial ads than years past. I hate it, haven’t bought a store issue in over 6 years because of the selling out (I got the first issue and the next 100 or so that followed, but eventually one can’t take it anymore), but any magazine that highlights Nicolas Batum, Amir Johnson and Penny Hardaway is reaching pretty hard. Damn SLAM, we miss the old…

  • Ryan

    Thank you! I’ve been thinking the same thing for a long, long time. Slam used to be a great read with challenging writing and an original take on things but it hasn’t been that way for a long, long time. It seems like they’ve aimed at the young and dumb, not a coincidence then that these two cats grace the cover. SMH.

  • sammyb96

    Which ish should I expect to be getting in the mail (I’m situated in Toronto)?

  • str8 from samoa

    jordan brand interviews!

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    Almost positive you’ll get Westbrook.

  • HV

    When will the new issue be available for the iPad?

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    ASAP! Hopefully by tomorrow if it isn’t up today.

  • PJM

    Is there always that lag between the print issue coming out and the ipad version being available?

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ben Osborne

    We’re trying to shorten the gap. Not run out of our editorial offices. Different company posts the issue and deals with Apple directly. Hopefully in future the lag will be less.

  • Chris

    I agree as well. At times, the writing in SLAM tends to be either juvenile (trying to be too hip) or is cluttered with an ample amount of “large words” that disrupt the flow of the article (don’t force a wide range of vocabulary when you can’t use it properly). However, I do enjoy getting the mag on a monthly basis and the inside stories that aren’t touched by some of the larger media publications.

  • Max Cr

    What shoes does Griffin have on?

  • bike

    They should change ‘revolution of a point guard’ to ‘not exactly a point guard. at. all.’

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