Proud as we are of the way SLAM reads, we know the biggest reason we’ve lasted 20 years is how the mag looks. To celebrate some of our most memorable photo shoots we spoke to the great photographers who made them happen.

by Peter Walsh

SLAM has been bringing the stories of players to the forefront for two decades, but rarely do we get to hear from the people behind the lens who provide the iconic shots that will live on long after the player’s career is over. Between the phone calls, e-mails, scheduling, cancellations and moody subjects, the amount of work it takes to get the perfect shot is one of the toughest aspects of bringing you the best in basketball month after month, and year after year.

When most people hear “SLAM Magazine,” the first image that comes to mind is Allen Iverson, wearing an iced out chain, a throwback Mitchell & Ness Sixers jersey, with his hair blown out. It’s easily the most famous shot in our history, and still rings bells in pop culture. The man responsible for that portrait—and several other amazing shots—was Clay Patrick McBride. Clay, whose own raw style and attitude came across in all of his shots for SLAM, took some time out to talk about that shoot with Allen as well as some of his other memorable shoots with SLAM.

For more of Clay’s work, check out www.claypatrickmcbride.com.

On shooting SLAM’s iconic cover, SLAM 32, with Allen Iverson…

It is one of the most popular pictures ever, it was my first cover shoot for SLAM, and it gave me street cred. It remains a very iconic image in that in sneaker culture and remains as a very important picture because it was the beginning of the Mitchell & Ness trend. It was an exciting moment in basketball with Jordan on his way out and new guys coming in.

I waited 13 hours for Iverson to come to the shoot. It was letting me know that I was in a different world, working with different people’s schedules. Most of my shoots for SLAM would happen in 10 minutes, they were very hectic situations where these guys didn’t want to give a ton of time so I had to get something quick. Once he got there and we had some music on he was moving around with his hair blown out, it was a lot of fun.

As an artist, I thought I was there to make art but there was this whole collaboration where I was dealing with someone else’s artistry, too. It comes with the territory, it was something that happened early in my career so it let me know that shit was going to come down the road and I was going to be dealing with hectic people and hectic schedules. Looking back now, I’m a better photographer and I use lighting differently so I would want to shoot it a little bit different than I did at that time. He’s an amazing looking cat, he’s got awesome tattoos, a great look and he’s a small man which was amazing to me. He was such a tiny guy who had such game, I have respect for that and how hard he went at it.

Somehow I shoot badass people and my brand has been developed around that. In the early component of my career, it helped shape how I get matched with badasses. You get matched with these personalities and it says something about your own personality…These ‘fuck the world’ personalities get matched with my own ‘fuck the world’ personality.

For more on this shoot, click here.

On shooting Vince Carter…

I liked the cover where he was sitting in the bleachers. He was talking to his mom on the phone and he was in a good mood. It seemed like dudes in Toronto were a little more willing, I think it was because SLAM put him on the cover as Rookie of the Year that year. He had a great relationship with SLAM, he was a little bit more giving with his time. He was always mad cool, he was a little bit more open to having his picture taken. Maybe it was because I came from New York to Canada or some shit like that, he was generous with his time.

On shooting LeBron and Sebastian Telfair for SLAM 62

They were super cooperative, it was powerful to be there on the ground floor of something and witness these guys’ ascent—especially LeBron who is becoming one of the greatest players ever. I shot him wearing adidas, that’s never going to happen again [laughs]. What’s interesting is when you take a picture like that, he’s clearly a kid and you look at how much he has changed and how much his game has changed. I root for both of those guys.

On shooting Kobe with the snake for SLAM 97

That was challenging, it’s one thing to hold a snake, and it’s another thing to hold a snake like four inches from your face. I had help from Melissa Brennan (SLAM’s Creative Director) and a good snake handler and I just kept chanting “Black Mamba” like a mantra [laughs]. I was trying to get him to hold the snake as close to his face as possible because the cover had to read right. He went for it, he was totally into it. We had some bigger snakes we photographed him with too, it was fun for him. The concept was his, it was all around his brand so it was just a matter of hammering that out. He was very cool, calm and collected throughout the whole thing. He didn’t get sissy or act like a bitch with the snake on him, he was like, “I’m gonna do this!” which I think is his mentality anyway.

Related:
Who Shot Ya?: Nic D’Amico
Who Shot Ya?: Tom Medvedich
Who Shot Ya?: Jonathan Mannion
Who Shot Ya?: Atiba Jefferson
SLAM’s 20th anniversary issue is on sale now!
A bunch of NBA players speak about their SLAM cover experiences