by September 30, 2011

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

Cover images and inset photo by NBAE/Getty Images

Even if watching a basketball game is a lot more exciting than watching a baseball game, I have to admit I care almost as much about the latter sport, in part because of the way it embraces its history (insane nights like Wednesday don’t hurt either). The NBA, in my opinion, generally doesn’t do a great job of honoring its history. Ironically, this depressing, lockout-dictated offseason has seen NBA TV unleash an orgy of aged programming, but that’s by default. We’ll see if the League goes back to semi-ignoring its history when the current players are back in action.

As much as SLAM is concerned with unveiling what’s new in the game, from hot shoes to hot rookies to the next big high school sensation, I’d like to think we balance that by honoring the game’s past, with all our Old School stories and consistent nods to history. Given both my and SLAM’s interest in the game’s past greats, we absolutely love what the NBA 2K franchise did with its game this year (pre-order now!). Incorporating legendary teams and players that you can use with or against today’s stars is a brilliant idea that gets to the crux of what people like about the history of a sport: the chance to compare the past with the present. With NBA 2K12’s financial and creative support, we decided to do an entire issue dedicated to this awesome concept. What if Shaq had gotten to battle Wilt? What if an in-his-prime MJ went up against a seasoned Kobe? How about Bill Russell’s 1965 Celtics taking on Doc, Moses and the ’83 Sixers? We settled on these and 17 other matchups, featuring amazing players and teams, all of which are incredibly fun to imagine. And then we analyzed the battle and chose a “winner.”

Some quick words on how we (basically just the full-time staff; much like our Top 500 issue, this came together quickly and there was no time to properly get feedback from all of our great writers) chose winners…

For the players, we took guys who ostensibly play the same type of role on their respective teams, and envisioned them guarding one another in a five-on-five game played when each was at the peak of his powers. For current players, their peak might be right now. In other words, we did not imagine what guys like LeBron James or Kevin Durant could be capable of in three years; we went off of what has really happened in their careers. For the team battles, we only considered teams that had the best regular-season record and won a title, then picked what we think would be the most entertaining cross-era matchups possible. And then, with intelligence, wit and awesome photos (but zero science!), we had a lot of fun with this.

We may decide to post online in the future but for the next couple of months this will be a newsstand-only operation. And without giving you all an annoying, “save print” lecture, that’s how it should be. The photos are honestly tremendous, and the layout is sick, too. Sure, some of you may rush through a write-up to see who we pick as the winner, and we certainly anticipate some serious arguments amongst friends who either agree or disagree with our choices, but this issue is about more than that. This is a chance to take the history of the game you love from your television screen, your computer and your imagination and hold it in your hands. Look for it in New York this weekend and nationally next week!