Originally published in SLAM 94
The 6th Man: This was almost the cover. Sort of. Let me explain.
The idea was Shaq’s, which should come as no surprise. Specifically, the idea was Flash and Superman—in this case, the NBA personification of the superheroes. In exact terms, the idea was to have Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade tearing off their warmup jackets to reveal the Superman and Flash logos on their chests. And no, we weren’t trying to go the ESPN Mag shirtless male athlete route—seriously, do you guys have a quota?—as the magic of digital technology would’ve allowed us to pull it off without partial nudity. But the warmups weren’t available for our shoot, time was limited, and what you get is a more traditional but (we think) no-less-fresh image of the best 1-2 punch in the National Basketball Association.
And what you get inside is the rest of the 2005-06 Miami Heat, as big-name-laden a roster as you’ll find in the League today. You could argue the Spurs have just as much juice (some of which we squeezed for our feature on Fin and Quick—check page 68), but those two are late-career additions to an already-set rotation, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are big names largely because they’ve already played so many meaningful postseason games; putting up the same numbers in, say, Milwaukee, they wouldn’t be nearly as famous, and Tony would sure as hell not be dating a Desperate Housewife. The Heat, meanwhile, added big, in-their-prime names like Jason Williams and Antoine Walker, and while Gary Payton does fit the Finley/Van Exel mold on one level, he has something those two don’t: a guaranteed spot in Springfield.
My point is that this Heat team is borderline unprecedented, akin to the GP/Malone-infused ’03-04 Lakers, only deeper. And as talented as they are, there are real doubts in some minds (mine included) about whether there are enough balls to go around. Some see an ego-driven disaster waiting to happen in South Beach; others see a guaranteed ring. All I know is that, if they pull it off, I would love to see superheroes on the cover.