by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

As those of you who have read SLAM for a long time know, we’re basketball people, not legal experts. Yeah, we kept the site cranking throughout the lockout with news stories and some diverse, intenseopinion pieces, but other than Shawn Bradley and Dave Zirin, there wasn’t too much “lockout coverage” in print. When we did Derrick Rose, we were still hopeful of a settlement. When we did the NBA BATTLES issue, we were honoring the game’s history, not its future. And when we did UNC, we were obviously acknowledging the lockout but felt like the college season was exciting enough that we could celebrate that, talk about the best rookies if there was an NBA season, and generally not spend too many pages on a labor dispute that at that point still hadn’t cost us any games.

But as October turned into November, and the news got bleaker and bleaker, we decided we had to take a stand. We were even starting to get letters and emails from readers—who normally love our relatively light-hearted take on the GAME we LOVE—asking us why we weren’t angrier. Why weren’t we covering it? Well, we were angry, but for one thing, we weren’t sure anger was good business. For another, we’d had enough other stuff to talk about.

Finally, with the union disbanded, lawsuits flying and a cancelled season looking like a real possibility, we’d had enough. We hired photographer Tom Medvedich, discussed the emotions we wanted to convey, and let him go to work. And go to work he did, building this arresting cover image that so perfectly captured how we were feeling. It’s the first SLAM cover in history that doesn’t feature a player, and in a way, it’s one of our most well done.

The cover was completed a little over a week ago and word of the concept started spreading. Lots of writers found out about it, as well as some agents, players and people who work for the NBA. As soon as they knew what type of cover SLAM had planned, they started talking again. Knowing they didn’t want to have forced even SLAM to round-the-clock lockout coverage, they finally resolved to keep talking until they had a deal and the season was saved*. Whew!

The issue, which hits newsstands this week, features some thoughts from Dave Z and I on what the NBA should be doing to make amends with fans going forward, as well as one last Shawn Bradley image that I know you’ll want to keep forever**.

Honestly, though, as the top two lines of the cover imply, there aren’t more than five or six pages of this issue that are about the lockout. Again, we are not a sports business magazine. We are not a legal journal. We are a basketball magazine. And there was still lots of basketball—or at least, basketball personalities—to discuss. With our usual wide lens, this month’s lineup features stories on Brandon Bass, Stephen Curry, Jimmer Fredette, Meadowlark Lemon, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Paul, Pat Summitt and much more.

If anything, this cover should have special collector’s issue status. After all, we’ll do plenty more KD, Kobe and LeBron covers over the years. But a burning basketball? This is a one-time only deal!

*We may not have been the biggest impetus for the resumption in talks.

**People may not want to keep the SB image forever.