Originally published in SLAM 80

The 6th Man: Predictions can be a dangerous thing. Bad enough if you’re wrong-Darko Milicic, anyone?-but sometimes even worse if you’re right. Take last year, for instance. In our 2003 Finals predictions, a few of us (including yours truly) correctly divined that the San Antonio Spurs would finish as NBA champions. So when this year’s picks came due, a feeling of supreme confidence settled. I wasn’t so much picking the Lakers as I was confirming the inevitable. I half-expected Gary Payton and Karl Malone to be presented with their rings the second the issue hit the stands. As I type this, the Lakers are down 2-1 to the San Antonio Spurs-whom none of us picked to win it all this year (thanks in part to inconvenient deadlines and a poorly timed late season flat spot). Maybe we should just leave the predictions alone…

Which leads us to the cover. Yep, that’s six high school ballers on there. Is this the end of the world? Has the purity of the game been forever sullied? Will the NCAA want us dead? I believe the answers to those questions are No, No, and Probably. But I supposed the biggest question is this: Are we presuming that these six teenagers are the future of basketball as we know it?

And that’s where it gets tricky. Even if the five who were expected to enter the Draft go in the Lottery, that doesn’t really give a clear picture of their future, except at the bank. Remember Nikoloz Tskitishvili? Or, uh, Darko? The Draft isn’t really about sure things anymore, if it ever was. And besides, this isn’t for what these six players are going to do, as much as for what they’ve already done. They’ve built on the foundation laid by those who went before them-Kevin, Kobe, Tracy, LeBron-and made high school a thoroughly viable road to the League. They’ve made their own decisions, based on tehtir own intuition and experiences, gone from exception to rule. Is this good or bad? Depends who you ask and who you are. Predictions? Hell, no. We’ve learned our lesson (for now). All we can do is wish them the best of luck.


Russ Bengtson

PS: Covers like this don’t just create themselves. along with photographer Clay Patrick McBride, creative director Melissa Brennan and senior editor Ryan Jones (for making the concept the reality), big thanks go out to our man Rivers at Reebok, Molly and Jeff at Golin/Harris and Aaron at Burrell.