Originally published in SLAM 22
The 6th Man: The first time I saw Rafer Alston, a.k.a. Skip to my Lou, was a couple of years ago at some summer basketball camp in Jersey. I’d heard stories of his exploits up at Rucker Park on 155th and Eighth. Guys he made fall down. Guys he made quit in disgust. Guys he made cry. I had no idea what he looked like—which was gonna be a problem, I realized, as I scanned the crowd of teenage ballers all mackin’ like they were something special.
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this kid. He was slowly moving through the crowd, lollipop in his mouth, dribbling. But it wasn’t the fact that he was able to keep his dribble while moving through a surging crowd that interested me-it was the way he was doing it. I got a little closer and noticed that he was crossing over. Back and forth. Forth and back. Never bending at the waist, never looking down, even as he moved side to side through the kids, talking to some of them. Crossing over. Around his back, back through his legs, reverse again.
It was Skip.
Since then, I’ve seen Rafer do some stuff you wouldn’t believe anyway, so I’m not gonna waste my words and your time. The kid’s special. But you’ll seen that soon enough, since he’s the new starting point guard at Fresno State. To see Rafer ball, really ball, is to be in the presence of a nonchalant greatness that hasn’t been seen in these parts since Bird or Magic. When we did the cover shoot—which took place at Madison Square Garden (thanks to Chris Weiller at the Knicks for making it happen)—I finally got to spend some time with Rafer. We didn’t even tell him in advance that he was the cover—he thought we were just doing a small feature on him—and he still spent some time trying to convince us that he really isn’t all that he was made out to be in the press.
By the way, please tell your friends to buy this magazine. My boss, who thinks I’m nuts for putting Rafer on the cover, has threatened to fire me if the issue bombs.
I only think he was kidding.
P.S. I just wanna clear up a couple of misconceptions that appeared in a Los Angeles Times article on SLAM (August 13, Section C, page 3). No, we are not “an NBA-worshiping magazine,” and had I only known that Scoop Jackson had “street credentials”, I woulda have asked to borrow them when mine were at the cleaners last week. On the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that “flawed but appealing” sums us up both as a magazine and a staff.