The February Slam doesn't devote much attention to KG, choosing instead to lavish its attention on a handful of other oft-profiled supadupastars (Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson). While this sounds like the publishing equivalent of McHale/Parish-for-Carroll/some other guy--is there anything that even a hoops casualist doesn't already know about these guys?--Slam smartly ducks the rote story angles.
For Carter, it'd have been easy to write, for the 3,487th time, the redemption-of-a-star piece, complete with quotes from former teammates ("he looks like he's having fun out there again") and publicist B.S. ("Fresh from handing out Kwanzaa candles to impoverished single-limbed orphans, Carter apologizes for arriving 90 seconds late to the interview"). Instead, Slam remains in the background as Carter watches and reacts to a reel of his most famous dunks. The story-behind-the-slams bit gives readers more of a sense of who this dude really is than most anything else already written about him.
That knowing-insider perspective elevates Slam above any number of sports-dork titles. I have no clue what goes on in editorial meetings, but I imagine that Slam staffers start out by asking, "What would we like to read about next month?" They're fans first and journalisty people second; they revel in the joy of the game and its personalities. This stands in severe contrast to an increasing percentage of sports publications and Web sites, which suck the fun out of the trivial pursuits they chronicle.
Slam's bottom-of-the page "Noyz" crawl dishes out stream-of-consciousness wit, rehashing an old Stephen Jackson scouting report to great comedic effect: "He is able to absorb contact and still get off his shot" (if you don't follow the NBA, that whooshing sound you heard was a line going over your head). Despite its dated Cheney-shooting-his-friends gibe, "Louder Than a Bomb" intelligently and soberly addresses what it calls the "pornography of violence" in the sports world.
Unless you enjoy toothy smiles -- the default facial expressions for NBA players, apparently, are scowls and open-mouthed roars -- you'll likely be swayed by Slam's design as well. Though it falls short of the sublime graphic frippery of ESPN The Magazine, Slam switches easily between fonts (the neatly fragmented Charlie Villanueva headline and pull quotes) and colors (red pages that match Johnson's home Hawks jersey).
Alas, the fan-first-journalist-second thing, and the sloppiness that comes with it, makes paging through Slam a frustrating experience at times. One of the "Noyz" ramblings is repeated a second time and a reader takes the mag to task for listing a WNBA player as a member of the University of Tennessee squad. I don't understand a few of the placement decisions, either, especially the ones to plop a Corey Maggette/Yao Ming pullout poster in the middle of the Bosh feature and to break up a two-page, vertical spread featuring three Sacramento players with a thick Timberland ad.
I also think Slam oughta poop or get off the pot when it comes to its coverage of women's hoops. The mag gives its few items on woman players, notably the cardboard-dull piece on Courtney Paris ("right now I'm just trying to stay focused on team goals"), short shrift. They pale in every way next to the fervent, in-depth profiles of men.
Me, I don't have much use for the WNBA or women's college hoops, because they lack the athleticism of the men's game (Note: this is a personal opinion held by an individual sports fan. Do not interpret it as, "What? Women can play basketball? Next thing you know, they'll be allowed to vote!"). But Slam, if it chooses to cover women's hoops at all, owes the players, the sport and readers the same caliber of coverage it affords men's basketball. Do it right, or don't bother.
As opposed to the decision to draft Kevin Garnett in one's fantasy basketball league, assembling an entertaining sports publication in this era of 24/7 online commentary is hard, dude. Need proof? Look at the absence of comparable titles for baseball (Slug?) or football (Spike?) fans. That Slam pulls it off without criticizing, proselytizing or otherwise hatin' is an accomplishment indeed.
Hi, everybody (hi, Dr. Nick!). I'll be doing a readers' mailbag thingie next Thursday, so send your questions, complaints, anecdotes and anything else you'd like me to address to Larry@Mediapost.com