by Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones

You could make a case—and I guess I’m about to—that these two covers are the most randomly paired covers in SLAM cover history.

That’s mostly my fault.

This all started a year or so ago, back when Kevin Love was in the midst of that epic run of 53 straight double doubles. I’ve known Kevin since his Basketball Diary days, and we’ve stayed in touch since, a symbiotic relationship in which I hit up Kevin for game tickets and he bugs me about getting on the cover of SLAM. At some point late last season, in an exchange that eventually went semi-public on Twitter, I got the blessing of EIC Ben Osborne and told Kevin that, if he could somehow average 20 and 15 for the season, we’d guarantee him a cover.

Kevin apparently thought we were serious.

We were both in L.A. last summer—Kevin to work out with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, lose a bunch of weight and turn into a perennial All-Star, me to take my kids to Disneyland—and so we linked up for an interview that would form, I thought, the basis of his eventual cover story. This was June, by the way, before Ricky Rubio was officially a Timberwolf, and before the 2012 season was locked out almost for good.

By the time things finally settled late last fall, there seemed to be other, more compelling cover subjects than a good young power forward on a bad team in a smallish market. It looked like Kevin’s wait might be postponed indefinitely. But in late December, once the delayed season finally got underway, I made my case to the boss, and to the boss’s boss (DP! What up peoples!), pitching the idea of a Love & Rubio cover that would be fresh in all the right ways and at least a little bit unexpected. And if we’re worried about sales, I argued, we could find someone from a bigger-market team to run as a split cover.

Funny how that worked out.

I ended up in Minneapolis in February, there to catch the Wolves against the Mavs and Knicks. It was after the second of those games, a 100-98 Knicks’ win, that I emailed Ben with a question: “You doing a Lin cover in NYC?” I was half joking. Maybe slightly less than half. It’s not like Ben and everyone else back in the Dome didn’t have the same idea in the back of their heads by that point, anyway.

All of which is to explain how what started nine months ago as Kevin Love solo cover became a shared cover with Ricky Rubio and, ultimately, a split with Love & Rubio on one front and Jeremy Lin on the other.

So: Jeremy Lin. What’s left to say? Great, great story. You can make the case—and I guess I’m about to—that he earned himself a SLAM cover pretty much entirely because of how he played in his first seven NBA starts. On the surface, this is insane; generally speaking, SLAM covers are highly coveted and hard as hell to get, the domain of superstars who tend to be really greedy about sharing that space. How does anyone “earn” a cover on the strength of seven games?

[CLICK HERE FOR COVER 1 of 2, FEATURING KEVIN LOVE AND RICKY RUBIO]

Well, everybody knows what happened. No puns here, but respect to this kid for an amazing, unprecedented debut, and for doing it while wearing a Knicks jersey. Adam Figman wrote the cover story, and I’m psyched to read it. Cop it, New Yorkers, or you’ll never get another.

And the Timberpups? Well, it’s hard to argue that Kevin hasn’t earned his cover. If he’s not the best power forward in the game, he’s on a very short list of candidates, and none of the others are top five in the League in scoring and rebounding. Then there’s Ricky, making his second SLAM cover appearance, and both of those have been based as much on what we think he’s going to do as what he’s actually done. But it’s not like Rubio hasn’t shown plenty—in the Spanish pro league, in the Olympics, and so far as an NBA rookie—to make us feel pretty good about the future.

I wrote a lot about the future in my cover story on Love and Rubio (which is the issue subscribers will get, by the way; both issues will be available at newsstands everywhere). Individually, let’s not front like Kevin isn’t a Hall of Famer if he keeps this up another five or six years; I’ve been hyping this dude since he was in high school, and even I couldn’t have predicted this. Ricky’s game hints at guys like Nash and Stockton, and if he stays healthy and continues to improve, why couldn’t he have a comparable career? For a neutral, let alone a long-suffering Wolves fan, you’ve got to love the idea of these guys developing—and winning—together.

(I almost forgot: Old SLAM heads will appreciate the homage that is our new cover. The front of SLAM 21 should make any short list of our most iconic covers, and Ben gets all the credit for the throwback concept. Not saying Kevin and Ricky pull it off quite as convincingly as Kevin and Steph did back in ’97, but you can’t argue with the inspiration. For what it’s worth: Kevin insisted on the visor, and Ricky is wearing a watch borrowed from photographer Atiba Jefferson, who was skateboarding with Lil Wayne about 36 hours before he did this shoot.)

I don’t have the slightest idea what the future holds for Jeremy Lin, but I don’t think it matters. Dude could end up never starting another NBA game, and he’s already been one of the most compelling stories in recent NBA history.

So, yeah: These covers are a weird match, but in both cases, for very different reasons, the timing just seems right.

[CLICK HERE FOR COVER 1 of 2, FEATURING KEVIN LOVE AND RICKY RUBIO]