Originally published in SLAM 101
The 6th Man: I had a funny thought as we were working on SLAM 100, and it’s a thought I’ve had echoed back to me more than once since the issue dropped. I could give a shit about Juelz Santana, but I was pretty proud of the line we borrowed for our MJ cover story—“What The Game’s Been Missing” just seemed to work on a lot of levels. But as it’s occurred to me and at least a few of you in the time since, the timing of that line seems increasingly suspect. Fact is, for maybe the first time since he retired for good, we really, truly aren’t missing Michael Jordan right now—at all. That’s nothing against Mike, of course, just a testament to the caliber of players who’ve stepped up to take his place in the game.
Before I go any further, let me clarify a couple things. Longtime SLAM readers will know that, unlike a lot of the “mainstream” media, we’ve never been hung up on the idea that the NBA is only worth watching when Michael Jordan is on the court. (This ain’t the PGA, Tiger fans.) If you’ve been down with us for any length of time, you know we’ve found plenty of reasons to stay in love with this game. At the same time, it’s never been about hanging ourselves up on bogus “Next Jordan” talk (well, at least not since that Grant Hill cover back in ’97…). So when we talk about the guys who are “taking his place,” we’re not looking for the next anyone, only the new generation of players capable of capturing our imaginations. And if you haven’t noticed, we’ve got a few of them set to run things right now.
Though he’s not the first member of his class to cop a championship ring—that honor goes to No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic and, alphabetically, at least, Jason Kapono (what!)—Dwyane Wade enters the offseason as the current leader of the new school. Of course, if you’d asked us in the first two rounds of the playoffs (and most of the regular season), that title would’ve gone to LeBron James. There were stretches over the past year when fellow ’03 stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh and young’ns like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard made a case for the crown, too. And are we really forgetting guys like Kobe, Paul, Dirk, Gilbert and others who haven’t even hit their 30th birthday yet? Not at all—cats like that just make the point that much harder to deny. Right now, the game doesn’t seem to be missing anything at all.