by Adam Figman / @afigman

With the brutal offseason of 2011 in the rearview, SLAM’s first non-lockout issue in a fewmonths is, for us, a wildly exciting moment. Without actual basketball to distract us or an impending season (or at least one with a known start date) to dream about, the summer/fall of 2011 was a boring lull of nothingness; while the owners and players’ union convened in boardroom gatherings, the SLAM staff did the same in editorial meetings, scrapping up ways to keep the content coming amidst the drought. For the most part, this led to an increase in stories about high school and college bball or NBAers returning to school, but if it also meant I had to dig through the subsoil of YouTube to find a video of Dwight Howard dunking on a giraffe, then so be it. Whether in print and online, lockout or not, our readership required its fill, and we made sure to provide it. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

But needless to say, this publication was pretty stoked when that mess ended and we realized we could go back to writing, talking and thinking about hoops. So when we hit the lab to put together issue 155, the decision to put the superstar you’ll see below on its cover was an easy one.

With all talk of BRI and revenue sharing and enormous consequences and all of that nonsense filed in the not-so-dearly departed cabinet, we turned our focus directly back to the hardwood, where, finally, the world’s best bball players would soon compete on the national stage. Which we took as permission to forget about everything that goes on outside of that 94 x 50 space for a little while and worry only about those who did the same. And, really, who on earth—excluding us!—seems to care about ball more than Kevin Durant does?

There’s no bigger struggle in the basketball media these days than the one to drum up an off-the-court narrative for this Oklahoma City team. That’s because, honestly, it’s damn near impossible to do. These guys just want to hoop. It’s no mystery that KD and Russell Westbrook had some on-the-court issues last postseason, but those didn’t last more than a few games. And when it was reported that the two were involved in another quick spat during a second quarter timeout earlier this season, the timing is what mattered most. It took place in the middle of the game. On the court. Two basketball players, on an active roster of 12, trying to figure out how to make it work, how to score the maximum amount of points so as to defeat their opponent. Their unyielding competitiveness is the kind of thing we should champion, not pull apart. The Thunder are an up-and-coming group of guys working their way towards a Larry O’Brien Trophy, and KD is their face, the one whose success or failure will ultimately determine their fate. That much, you know.

So placing the DMV native, who spent the summer showing and proving just how much he loves the sport, right up front following an event that threatened to cut NBA fans’ access to the game entirely just felt right. I visited OKC for a few gloomy December days to knock out the story, hitting up the squad’s media day and then a subsequent practice in order to make it happen.

To read the KD feature you’ll have to grab the issue, which you should do anyway because the rest is jam-packed with goodness, too: a slightly belated but comprehensive NBA preview; a look at the rookies most likely to…; a profile of forever-relevant Celtics veteran Paul Pierce; a conversation with the great Penny Hardaway; a Q+A with Nuggets PG Ty Lawson about his come-up; and plenty, plenty more.

Go get it.