Originally published in SLAM 74

The 6th Man: This cover almost didn’t happen. My first reaction when someone mentioned Kobe Bryant for the cover of our NBA preview issue was “Hell no!” Too exploitative. All I could think of was the “ACCUSED” SI cover, which made me sick the second I took it out of my mailbox (although you better believe I read the story). Feeling sick wasn’t a new feeling, though—I (and we) have been down with Kobe for a long time, and when I first saw the headlines a couple of months back, I had to read them a few times before it all settled in. Kobe? Hell no. Not Kobe. This is why it was so hard to put him on the cover now. Every photo, every cover line, seemed to imply something….other. What would a Kobe cover really mean? What would you all think?

This decision was not made instantaneously. It was slept on. Discussed. But in the end, there was really no argument. Because—and this isn’t rationalization—as the 2003-04 NBA season kicks off, what more compelling story is there than Kobe Bryant? Kobe’s coming off not one, but two surgeries, and his first non-title season of the millennium. But he’s also coming off his best statistical season, averaging a Jordanesque 30 ppg (his first 30-plus season), 6 assists and 7 boards last year. And now he’s expected to not only make room for two additional Hall of Famers in GP and Karl Malone, but continue to feed the Big Constant. In an issue that covers the Elementals (would-be impact players from every division), who out there has the potential to make a bigger impact than Kobe? If he has another monster season, the Lakers could win 80. If he melts down, it could be an absolute disaster. And this doesn’t even touch on the fight in Colorado, where his basketball life—and, in fact, his life—hangs in the balance.

Scoop’s excellent piece (on page 88) covers most of this territory, but I thought it was good to get some of it out up front, as it were. We owed that much to you. And to ourselves. And to Kobe Bryant.


Russ Bengtson

SLAM 74 Kobe Bryant