Originally published in SLAM 97

The 6th Man: Yes, the snake is real—doubters can get video proof at slamonline.com. And no, it’s not a black mamba, but that’s only because all the snake wranglers we talked to told us that mambas are so lethal, even trained professionals can’t really hold them.

And of course, you could say the same thing about Kobe Bryant when he’s on the basketball court.

It’s been way too long, but KB8 is finally back on the front cover of SLAM. We didn’t want it to take this long, and we tried to get him back sooner, but like everything else where Kobe is concerned, shit got complicated. There was the pretty amazing photo shoot that went down in late ’04 which, for reasons too complex to explain here, has yet to see the light of day. There was KB’s first-person essay, scrapped because, in his words, “the timing wasn’t right,” and which, in retrospect, we’re pretty happy we never ran anyway. There was another missed connection last fall, when a concept couldn’t be agreed upon and middle ground couldn’t be met.

Like I said, it’s complicated. Like I said, things with Kobe usually are.

This cover, from the photo shoot to the story that accompanies it, was no exception. Instead of boring you further with logistical drama, I’ll just say that, for us, dealing with Kobe Bryant is unlike dealing with any other player, now or ever. Getting access to the L’s biggest stars can be like running a marathon: a long, exhaustive process involving agents, personal assistants, team PR people and sneaker company reps that you simply have to endure if you want to reach your goal. With Kobe…imagine a marathon where somebody keeps changing the starting time, then moves the finish line and never bothers to tell you. Thankfully, we came with an ill idea—you call yourself “black mamba,” why not pose with a snake?—he loved it, and we managed to get this thing done.

So, yeah, it’s been too long, but at least our timing is good. This cover was planned before 8 dropped his 81—Lord knows what he’ll have done between the time we go to print and the day this issue hits the street—and that historic outburst certainly didn’t hurt. But even without those 81 points, we had at least as many reasons to get Kobe back in the mix. Shaq’s long gone, and the Lakers are finally moving ahead for real. Phil’s back, and he and Kobe seem to be peacefully coexisting. The signature shoe is finally out, the Nike campaign is bubbling, the All-Star votes are back by the millions. It’s almost like the worst parts—accusations of “snitch,” “rapist” and “franchise killer”—never actually happened. But they did, and this story wouldn’t be so compelling if they hadn’t.

Point being, Kobe’s running things right now, so it’s fitting that he’s back in our pages. Love him or hate him—the only two options, right?—it’s about time.


Ryan Jones

Issue 97 Kobe Bryant