Originally published in SLAM 87

The 6th Man: One was so long overdue it was bordering on the outrageous, the other’s outrageousness made his time border on overdue. Allow me to explain.

Yes, we did it again. Two the hard way, covers split between East and West in honor of the All-Star Game (just passed as you read this) and the playoff races, heating up as we speak. It didn’t seem fair to have to give love to just one side, and besides, the only way to do it would have been to flip a coin.

The overdue, as you all very well know, is Ray Allen. Despite five All-Star appearances and years of individual excellence, he hasn’t graced a SLAM cover since the rookie extravaganza way back in (gulp) Issue 15. Seven years is a long time, but it always seemed that circumstances (either ours or his) always got in the way. Now with his Sonics angling for the top playoff spot in the L, it all finally came together. Well, most of it—check the story for more. See, Coach Calhoun, we’re all about winning! And it’s even one of your players! Oh yeah, and tell Charlie Villanueva we said what’s up.

Which brings us to the East. Yeah, we just hit you with the Dwyane Wade Q&A three issues back, and had the Big cover for the start of the season, but there was no point in waiting any longer to give Dwyane cover love of his own. Flash is the best soph in the game not named LeBron, and, if anything, Shaq’s arrival in South Beach just elevated his game even higher. And given the way Dwyane crushed in the playoffs last year, it’s not hard to believe the road to the Finals will go through Miami.

And what else? Well, there’s Steve Nash, leading the break at an MVP pace in Phoenix; Kirk Hinrich, leading the turnaround (finally!) in Chi-Town; the downlow on the Fighting Illini, who might still be the best team in the state; and sophomore prep sensations OJ Mayo and Bill Walker, the latest Ohio prodigies. You’ll also find our Final Four picks—use with caution, as we don’t always even win our own office pool.

Peace,

Russ Bengtson

P.S. Issue dates shifted a bit, so this one went to press before All-Star. We’ll have the wrap-up for you next ish, promise.

Issue 87 Dwayne WadeIssue 87 Ray Allen