by January 25, 2007

The FedEx envelope landed on my desk at about 10 am. I came to work today expecting two FedEx envelopes, one of which should include the loan check I need to finally buy a damn car, and the other which should include a hot-off-the-presses copy of SLAM 106. Checking the return address, I’ll admit I was briefly disappointed to see the name “Benny Guzman” printed on the label; Benny runs the mailroom at the SLAM Dome, and Benny’s my man, but Benny’s not really trying to loan me $20 grand for a new Camry. And I’m kinda itchin’ to get that car.

But again, disappointment was brief. This was 106. The new joint. The Remix. And I’ll be honest: Opening that envelope, seeing the actual cover and (especially) actually flipping through the issue felt really, REALLY weird. I’ve had a few similar moments lately, like walking around the same college campus where I was an undergrad 12 years ago, and where I now work, and seeing all these kids who look so much younger than I thought I was at the time. Or realizing that if I turn my head to check out some fine co-ed, I’m no longer just another college kid; I’m a pervert. I never had this problem in Manhattan.

But seeing the new SLAM was weird in a pretty unique way. And a good way. There’s a little bit of melancholy or something similar, because I no longer sit in Ed.’s chair and get to pretend I’m in charge. But mostly — and pardon the cringe-inducing sincerity here, I know this kind of sh*t usually has no place on slamonline —it’s just pride. Working at a magazine like SLAM, we get that feeling every month (some months more than others, of course) when, after bugging Benny and his crew in the mailroom if they’d gotten new issues in, we finally got our first few copies. We go through them page by page, looking for offensive ads and stupid typos, but mostly getting off on seeing the finished product of all the work we’d put in a few weeks earlier. And it usually feels pretty good.

But this… this is next level.

If you care, there’s some background you need on this whole Remix business. First, it’s been in the works for a while. All magazines go through redesigns; sometimes they’re strictly cosmetic, others philosophic. Ours was a little of both. Basically, it had been a long, long time since anybody at SLAM had had a chance to really marinate on what we do and why. For a lot of reasons, we finally reached that point back in the fall, agreeing to make a concerted, collective effort to figure out what SLAM does best, what it should do more of, and what it might be better off not doing at all. Mad brainstorming sessions followed, and we came up with a pretty extensive list of everything we wanted to add, subtract and tweak. All of this happened while I was still in-house, and a lot of the ideas — good, bad and occasionally wack — were mine.

And then I left. I mean, it didn’t happen quite that quickly; there were a lot of mock layouts and more brainstorms and great concepts and questionable ideas, a lot of which I was still around for. But my last day at the office was literally the last day of production for 105, meaning all the real work at making 106 a reality occurred after I rolled out. Which brings me back to now, seeing the issue for the first time and simultaneously feeling like I was huge part of it… and at the same time had absolutely nothing to do with it. Which, again, is pretty f*cking weird.

And since you asked… this is a beautiful issue. I haven’t read it yet because I haven’t had the chance (and because it’s going to take a while to get used to seeing an issue of SLAM where I haven’t already seen every word three or four times) but as far as the look, concept, design, stories choices, it’s just inarguably dope. Hence the header on this column: If you’ve got any love at all for the game and this magazine, I literally cannot imagine you not feeling 106.

And since you asked, here’s a detail breakdown of why…

-The Cover: I think Susan might be the only one who knew this (although knowing her inability to keep a secret, that probably didn’t last long…) but I initially didn’t like the cover concept. At all. Seeing it now, I’ve come around. No, it’s not a verbatim recreation of the actual logo, but you’d have to be completely hoop ignorant (or just stupid) not to realize what it’s supposed to be, and the image is strong as hell. Being the resident LJ jock-rider on staff (unless Lang is so moved to try and take my place…) I’ll always defend his nearly annual cover spots, as long as he remains as good and compelling as he is. And of course, my man Atiba got the dope shot to make it all work.

-In The Paint: What we call our Tables of Contents, and the first real signs of a visual re-design. Just like we tinkered with occasional editorial changes over the years (RIP, Iso…), our creative director, Melissa Brennan Winkler, never had a chance to do much more than add the occasional design tweak or flourish, and therefore never had a chance to make SLAM really look the way she wanted it. She inherited a template that was pretty cool, but was kinda handcuffed as far as how much better she could make it. Because of that, I for one probably underestimated her a little bit. Your picture on Ben’s letter (which was great, by the way — and thanks for the shout) still scares the sh*t out of me, Melissa, but the magazine is beautiful.

-The adidas ASG Superstars ad on pages 24-25: Oooooh. Travis Gonzolez, if you’re reading this, I think I need a pair of those blue East joints. Hollatchaboy!

-Trash Talk: A subtle but necessary cleanup of the DP-inspired clutter of the past couple years. Ben’s also a meaner Ed. than I probably ever was. If you know him, you had to know he had it in him. Tell ’em why you mad, B.

-Hype: This was the b*tch. As you should notice pretty much immediately, this is not your father’s Hype section. It is partially mine, though. Nothing in the Remix required as much thought and consideration as Hype, and the fact that you probably hardly recognize it should tell you that we put that thought into action. Things I’ll take at least partial credit for include deading the “Calendar” (which I didn’t hate, but wasn’t really worth the trouble); “Which NBA Player Are You?” which I think was a great idea but doubt I could’ve pulled off writing — and for which I thank god we have Sam Rubenstein, who was born for sh*t like this; and most of the more frivolous stuff, like “Who Said It?,” “Watch This!,” “What’s My Name?,” and “Picture Me Ballin'”.

But my proudest contribution to Hype is probably “Mandatory Attendants,” which is both a GREAT name and an excellent concept that we’d wanted to try and get into the magazine a long time ago. Just so it’s clear, yes, these are real quotes from real, current lockerroom attendants (aka ballboys) all around the League, talking about real NBA players. We generally make a point to bullsh*t with these guys whenever we’re at a game, wherever it is, because they’re usually down with SLAM, and because they’ve always got great stories to tell. My hope, and I think it’ll happen, is that as these guys see this in the magazine, they’ll be inspired to come with even dirtier dirt. Stay tuned.

What I CAN’T take credit for is Mike James’ diary, which promises to be a great read every issue (and on a sidenote, I know supplies are limited, but we should see how many guys we can get in the magazine rocking SLAM New Era hats. We’ve got Kevin Love and now Mike, so we really only need three more guys for a dope starting five…); the new and (in my opinion) improved Rookie Diary; and “Chalk Talk,” which I initially wasn’t with but I now think Ben was absolutely right to insist on (especially if we can read more from guys like Steve Kerr in an extended online format…)

Last thing—you’ll notice the In Your Face section has now been merged into Hype, and those stories shortened up a bit. It’s probably pretty minor from a readers’ perspective, but I think this helps bring the whole front of the magazine together better while still showing love to deserving collegians and young pros. Overall, Hype is just much, much cooler, and I don’t think it’s even close.

-The undrcrwn ad on page 51. You guys are KILLING me! Please keep doing your thing.

-Slamadamonth: Russ is back in his rightful spot, which I held down for most of the past two years and which Ben politely told me I wasn’t very good at writing. A*shole. Anyway, it’s always kind of been Russ’ baby, so I’m glad to see him back at it. Full disclosure: For a variety of reasons, we considering making Slamada into a one-pager, and even (very, very briefly) discussed killing it altogether. But that was never really going to happen. Not when guys like Chris keep doing things like this.

-Features: There wasn’t really much that needed “changing” in the feature well, both because it wasn’t really problematic and because, by its nature, it looks relatively different each issue on its own, depending on who gets featured. Still, it’s better — and not only because Ben & Co. picked a great group of features for this issue (none of which I’ve had a chance to read just yet but will the second I leave work today…) But there’s some undeniable freshness in here, starting with Sam’s piece on fellow gangsta-leaning bad-ass Zach Randolph.

And then there’s the mini-features on Kevin Durant and Aaron Gray. For those of you who remember waaaay back 3 or 4 issues ago to Iso and Check You Man, this is kinda what we were going for; they just didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. But having these little two-page spots in the feature well is a nice touch, both visually and for those of you who have to sneak an article in between classes, or just have short attention spans.

Add in Jake “My Brother’s in a movie about a girl with teeth in her hoo-hoo” Appleman breaking down fellow socialist pinko 20-something Adam Morrison (which I can’t wait to read) and Khalid Salaam breaking down Charles Barkley (which I can’t wait to read) and Russ Bengtson breaking down the greatest dunk contest that never was (which I can’t wait to read, and which I’m bummed I didn’t think of while I was still there, and which figures to be even funnier than this), and, well, I can’t wait to read everything in this section. Yes, even Monta Ellis.

-The ad on page 109: In a way, it’s sort of comforting to know that, even with the Remix, some things about SLAM will never change — things like embarrassing ads for embarrassing products that I won’t name for a variety of reasons. Capitalism: It’s a motherf*cker.

-Fashion: This was overdue. I’m not a big Vogue reader, but hey, we all wear clothes, and instead of hanging them on some wires or in front of a wack background because that’s all we could afford, we’ve made it a priority to get some fly gear (if I may date myself with such a reference) on some actual model boys so you can see what it looks like and decide if you might actually want to buy it. Don’t hate, appreciate.

-Under Review: Back again, in a better place (it never really worked in Hype, I don’t think) and a new format, and the welcome addition of Sam Dalembert, who’s talking about sh*t I don’t understand. But that’s cool.

-Check This: Don’t ask why it took us so long to figure out how to make this little gear & product section work, but it did. It’s better now. Capitalism: You can’t win if you don’t play.

-Punks: My continued and only marginally unhealthy immersion in the grassroots hoops scene means I’ve got a special interest in this section, and I’m happy to see that it’s gotten a little bit better while remaining mostly unchanged. Moving the Diary over and giving the Big Punk (our in-house lingo) a full page just looks better, and throwing a second version of Picture Me Ballin’ in here to shout out the underclassmen you need to know now was an overdue no-brainer. And a subtle difference that a lot of you may not have even noticed: No more 1/3-page ads in the Punks section. They’re now on the feature jump pages, which are another great idea I take absolutely no credit for.

-Backboard: Just a minor design change here (and another improvement by MBW), but worth noting mostly because my man Konate Primus, SLAM’s swashbuckling, BK-repping intern, makes his true editorial debut. Glad to see it.

Front to back? Yeah, I’m biased, and my POV is pretty unique, but I just think it’s fire throughout. Yes, SLAM will continue to evolve and advance and occasionally f*ck up as it goes, but from where I sit (which is here, if you don’t remember), I see a really good magazine getting better. Critics and haters, please step up and take your turn. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Just don’t think you’ll change my mind. I’m still rocking with the best.