Originally published in SLAM 138
The 6th Man: This is for the haters and the whiners. The people who, much as we love their devotion to SLAM and SLAMonline.com, see the need to bitch every time we put LeBron James or Kobe Bryant on the cover. Never mind that those dudes always sell well; you guys want “someone else.” Well here ya go, boys and girls. Welcome to the other NBA. Not the one populated by worthless teams like the Pacers and Wizards, but the one with amazing players who just don’t get a whole lot of hype.
If you love the game and can’t wait to watch an NBA postseason that will be chock full of unbelievably athletic, skillful players who do things on a nightly basis you simply didn’t see a generation ago, then this cover is for you.
Kevin Durant may be headed for superduperstardom, but as less of a ballhandler than the King or KB, and with a quieter personality, too, it’s hard to ever see him reaching their status. What’s more, he’s hardly a one-man show. Jeff Green may be the League’s ultimate glue guy, doing a bit of everything for OKC while playing with a wisdom beyond his 23 years. And Russell Westbrook, well, he’s only the most explosive PG in the League this side of Derrick Rose. Together with the young nucleus that surrounds them, this trio has made the Thunder the team no one in the West wants to face.
Over in the East, the Hawks aren’t quite as new to the scene, as this core has been improving for three years now, but the thought of them as legit contenders for a title is definitely new. With big man Al Horford hitting the glass, Team USA’s Joe Johnson scoring all ways and Josh Smith soaring higher than ever, these Hawks are looking for blood.
It’s also time to put all these guys on the cover because the truth is that their success could be fleeting. Bron and Kobe aren’t going anywhere. They sold five years ago, they’ll sell five years from now. But OKC-ATL? The Thunder didn’t even exist three years ago. Joe Johnson may be a Knick next year. Even as we consider them teams on the rise, the time might be now for these guys. Don’t miss it.