This is always a tough cover to decide on, as we need to finish it before the conference finals even begin. Sometimes we do all-time greats (SLAM 100: Michael Jordan), sometimes we do Draft-related covers (SLAM 110: Oden/Durant). This time we decided to honor the NBA’s breakout star of 2008, a guy who has never had his own SLAM cover. This one is out in NYC now and should be nationwide by this weekend. New Orleans-based senior writer Aggrey Sam, who penned the outstanding feature that runs in this issue, explains why this cover was the right move for us:

When I moved to New Orleans back in January, the first Hornets game I attended was in a half-filled arena, with a crowd that could seemingly care less about their hometown squad—moreso because hoops was a lot further down the priority list than, say, getting their lives back in order after Katrina, even with tickets as low as $10. By the time the season ended last month, virtually every game was sold out, people were rocking Hornets gear all over the city and everywhere I went, people only wanted to talk about one topic: Chris Paul. A few things happened in between—such as the Crescent City hosting the All-Star Game and the Hornets becoming a legit contender—but without a doubt, the transformation of fans into devotees, casual fans into fanatics, apathetic non-fans into casual fans and a national audience into true believers was due to CP3.

A feel-good story became a gripping saga. Talking heads went from including him in the next great young point-guard debate into the convo about future all-time greats, a transcendent player, an MVP. I often think about how my relocation to the N.O. was good timing—a city on its way back, the All-Star Game in my backyard, the Hornets’ amazing run and the reason why I’m posting today, a cover-story assignment—but then I contrast it with the city’s good timing.

Name a player better than CP for New Orleans. I’m not even talking about on the court, though that applies, too. I mean for a city that’s been through what it’s been through. Honestly, have you ever heard anybody say something negative about him? Maybe Julius Hodge, but that’s old news. Seriously though, his universal magnetic personality, Iverson/Stockton mentality (more like a sub-six foot Magic, if you wanna keep it 100; Isiah didn’t set the table like him and I’m too young to compare him to Tiny) and his mental game are nonpareil in today’s NBA. He touches people here like you wouldn’t believe, and while it helps that he’s one of the nicest ballers around, it helps even more that he’s got the heart of the city.

I did my story right in the midst of the team’s series against the defending champs, so you would expect it to be chock-full of Playoff background scenery (although competing with beat writers on deadline for interview time and no photo shoot didn’t help my cause). However, the feature was less about his season and more about his affect—on and off the court. Ticket sales, playing style (as much as I enjoyed the AI Era in Philly, I can’t argue that young cats emulating CP is better for the game) and pride—something that definitely wasn’t lacking here, but every little bit of inspiration helps—are all tangible effects of his MVP run. Not to wake up sleeping dogs, but nobody else in the League carried a city, in addition to a team. Rebuild New Orleans, indeed.