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NO. 203 DEC 2016

ROSTER 32 2016-17 NBA PREVIEW A group of our favorite rappers help us look toward the coming NBA season.

36 #SLAMTOP50 Kawhi Leonard (right) and the rest of the NBA’s elite are ranked in our annual list of the League’s 50 best players.

40 ROOKIES MOST LIKELY TO... Like every year, we give some superlatives to a young, wide-eyed crop of up-and-comers.

42 F.U.T.W.

48 WIN THE DAY Remember when JJ Redick was the most hated basketball player in America? Neither do we.

52 BACK ON MY GRIZZY The ever-stylish Chandler Parsons’ next chapter will take place in Grind City.

56 IN MY MIND Problem child or troubled genius? We think of Rajon Rondo as the latter, and hope the “troubled” part disappears ASAP.

60 MOMENT OF CLARITY Linsanity is long gone, but Jeremy Lin is back in New York and ready to run the suddenly young-ish BK Nets.

64 MY TIME Seth Curry finally has a guaranteed deal and a chance to prove he truly belongs in the L.

66 Y’ALL MUST HAVE FORGOT Shareef Abdur-Rahim is far from the most legendary member of the ’96 Draft class, but dude had serious game. Do remember.



Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are officially running the most talked-about team in the NBA. You ready?

Reuben Reuel — New success, marrying African fabrics with western fashion.

Looking back is part of the ride. As Reuben Reuel moves forward on the road to the new success, he knows that sometimes you have to take a backward glance. Introducing the new 2017 Toyota Corolla, with standard Toyota Safety Sense™ P1 and standard Backup Camera.2 Entune™ Audio Plus with connected navigation is also available. You’ve got the wheel. Now, do. Options Shown. 1Drivers should always be responsible for their own safe driving. Always pay attention to your surroundings and drive safely. Depending on the conditions of roads, vehicles, weather, etc., the system(s) may not work as intended. See Owner’s Manual for details.2The backup camera does not provide a comprehensive view of the rear area of the vehicle. You should also look around outside your vehicle and use your mirrors to confirm rearward clearance. Environmental conditions may limit effectiveness and view may become obscured. See Owner’s Manual for details. ©2016 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

NO. 203 DEC 2016





Like it or not, KAT got next.

Rock what the pros rock as the season tips off.

15 HYPE Allyson Felix is crazy fast, a Warriors legend from years’ past, and Kris Dunn officially joins a dope Wolves cast. Plus stories on Jordin Canada, Lil Dicky, Tyus Jones, Norman Powell and more.

28 SLAMADAMONTH Jaylen Brown’s career has barely started and yet the Celtics rook is already soaring.

74 KICKS OFF COURT Sneaks and boots to prep for the cold.

75 KICKS EXTRA The third in Steph’s UA sig line, and fresh socks to wear with it from Stance.

76 PUNKS Allow Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaylen Hands, Jalek Felton, Sidney Cooks and DeAndre Ayton (above) to introduce themselves.

80 FROZEN MOMENT The mid-’00s version of our newest cover would’ve been pretty hot.







2016 Vol.23 No.10


Editorial MANAGING EDITOR Susan Price Thomas SENIOR EDITORS Ryne Nelson, Abe Schwadron ASSOCIATE EDITORS Franklyn Calle, Peter Walsh ASSISTANT EDITOR Max Resetar NEWS EDITOR Marcel Mutoni EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Rajah Allarey, Bill DiFilippo,

Habeeba Husain, Leo Sepkowitz, Alex Squadron CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Ryan Jones, Tzvi Twersky PRODUCTION MANAGER Jillian Burmeister BASKETBALL EVANGELIST Rick Telander SENIOR WRITERS Jake Appleman, Russ Bengtson,


uly 8, 2010. I rode the LIRR into Manhattan and squeezed into a crowded midtown bar filled with bridge and tunnel loudmouths wearing oversized Knicks jerseys and fitted Yankee hats. I was with two friends—one a fellow basketball obsessive, one a pop-culture rubbernecker, there simply to witness the spectacle. And man, what a spectacle it was. Not even The Decision—I’m not here to talk about the television special that birthed a trillion takes—but the decision, the fact that a basketball player could decide to go do his job in a different city and that as a result the landscape of the NBA could be re-arranged so rapidly and with such force. It’s always been fascinating to me that this is even possible. I love it. It’s a reason for fans to never get too comfortable with streaks of big wins or bad losses—which is totally fine. We get to watch basketball played at its highest level for a couple hundred nights every single year. That’s more than enough. I spent the early portion of that summer unemployed and confused, unsure if the music-writing job I then wanted was in any way feasible. (Entering the workforce in mid-recession 2010 was weird as hell.) At some point that July I realized I was devoting an unhealthy portion of my days to thinking and reading about basketball, and so, so much of that was LeBron-related—if not directly about him, then indirectly so, considering how much he altered the rest of the NBA. I had of course spent the majority of my preteen, teenage and collegiate years not only thinking and reading but also playing, watching, writing, arguing and dreaming about basketball, but to still be doing so at 22 years old meant this would likely never stop happening. And all of the madness looked so fun to be involved with. So I applied for an internship at a popular basketball magazine and never looked back. The League’s tectonic plates shifted once again in the summer of 2014, when Bron elected to return to the state that had raised him. When you factor in that a previous one of these NBA upheavals had also taken place back in ’07 with the forming of Boston’s Big Three (that required two moves, but still), it becomes clear that what we have is a legitimate pattern: Every few years something happens that reignites the energy and spirit of the L in a perpetually exciting and polarizing manner. Earlier this summer, while riding a train from DC home to NYC, I was staring at Twitter (this story already checks out) when I scrolled into the famous Players’ Tribune link that crashed the internet. The format was different, but it happened again. Kevin Durant singlehandedly took the ingredients that make up today’s NBA and shook that shit up. I’m happy for KD, because—as Pete Walsh writes about in this month’s cover story (pg 42)—he made a decision that he seems pleased with, which is ultimately all that I believe really matters. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m happy for us, too, both as fans and media members. Maybe the Warriors go on to win Championship after Championship, or maybe they implode and this goes down as a wild one-year experiment; regardless, the new-look Dubs have officially given everyone a new reason to pay attention, to tune in. To spend days thinking and arguing about basketball. And to read a season preview issue of a mag like this. Hope you think it’s a good one.

Michael Bradley, Alan Paul, Khalid Salaam, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams, Nima Zarrabi Mohamed Bamba, Shannon Booher, Kris Dunn, Anel Ganic, Vincent Goodwill, Holly MacKenzie, Sam Rubenstein, Eli Schwadron, David Zirin INTERN Jihad Dennis CONTRIBUTORS


Burn & Broad, Atiba Jefferson, Layne Murdoch, Chris Razoyk, John Ueland

Circulation/Advertising ASSOCIATE GENERAL MANAGER David MVP Spiro Maroulis ADVERTISING SALES Michael Yaari


Manufacturing Operations VP, MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS ARCHIVIST Thomas Voehringer

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Back Issues

OFF THE BENCH JAMES TIRADO Raised in Flushing, Queens, James will rarely miss an opportunity to let you know where he’s from. A former men’s fashion editor, James recently decided to take a hobby that has captivated him since his teens—video production—and make a career out of it. Catch the 25-year-old splitting time between a weekly show for SLAM, creating videos for his YouTube channel and foolishly getting his hopes up for this year’s Knicks who will inevitably break his spirit, again. Being associated with SLAM is still surreal for him, as he still speaks fondly of all the AND 1, adidas and Dada sneaker ads of the mid-’00s that inspired him to study advertising in college. For more from James, check out his YouTube channel and find him on Twitter @jtirado_.

10 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M

To order back issues, visit storeBackIssues.html Any submissions or contributions from readers shall be subject to and governed by TEN: The Enthusiast Network’s User Content Submission Terms and Conditions, which are posted at Occasionally our subscriber list is made available to reputable firms offering goods and services we believe would be of interest to our readers. If you prefer to be excluded, please send your current address label and a note requesting to be excluded from these promotions to TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, Attn: Privacy Coordinator.

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Adam Figman


Finally! A new cover. Tired of seeing LeBron’s cover at stores. KAT and the Wolves should have a great season this year. Ronnie Jones, via FB I’m 12 and writing from Kentucky. I read SLAM every single month. I’ve been reading since 170. I literally count down the days until the next SLAM comes out. I play basketball and love to collect sneakers. It would be awesome if you guys could put this in the next magazine. My favorite players are LeBron and Kawhi Leonard. My favorite throwback players are Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. My favorite section of SLAM is the SLAMADAMONTH. Thanks. JD Soard, Lexington, KY Nah dude, thank you.—Ed. He’s got so much potential and already has a great sense of awareness at his young age, this is the NBA’s next superstar!! Andrew Ramirez, via FB I was hoping for the Cleveland Cavaliers cover like you did when Miami Heat won back to back. Allen Dave Novicio Lupena, via FB Uh, you see SLAM 201?—Ed.

Some day I dream of a MinnesotaCharlotte NBA Finals. Some day! Kareem Moreland, via FB This is the last call to jump on the TWolves Wagon. Sincerely, Loyal Wolves Fan Tenzin Phuntsok, via FB KAT is definitely the future best big man in this league. He will only get better under Thibs. Jason Ejercito, via FB First off, congrats to King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for their best Finals, coming from behind 3-1 to win the NBA title. We can’t forget the historic season the Golden State Warriors (73-9) put together, record breaking and history making. But I’m a Kobe Bryant/L.A. Lakers fan till my last breath. Can’t wait till my team gets back to the glory and to being a title contender. Shout out the best player of my time Black


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Mamba. We (the Lakers) have a good young roster with a lot of potential—reminds me of OKC. Well, that was until Durant jumped ship and went to the GS Warriors (can’t beat them, join them). All KD had to do is believe everything is possible, ask Kobe Bryant! They told him he wasn’t gonna win another title after Shaq left for Miami, but he ain’t get one title but two. But all KD did was create a super team for the ages (if he stays put). Just know that this 2016-17 season, the Golden State Warriors will not win the NBA title. King James looking good for a two-peat. Wish the Lakers would hurry up, shout out to D. Russell, B. Ingram, J. Randle, A. Brown and General Manager Mitch Kupchak (missing piece: Anthony Davis). Let’s go Laker Nation. Thank you for letting me express my feelings and telling SLAM Nation about my prediction for this upcoming season. Thank you once again, you’re the best sports magazine in the whole

damn planet and I’ll be a lifetime subscriber of SLAM. #GoSLAM Carlos Abreu, Auburn, NY Note: Please print this in #203 so the whole world could see my prediction is on the money. What it do, SLAM Magazine? Y’all been holding down the No. 1 spot for awhile when it comes to the sport of basketball on all levels. I’m glad y’all put my dude King James on the cover of 201 holding his new hardware with the slogan LeBron: What More Can I Say? That’s all that needs to be said. He came back home and did what he said he was going to do: bring Cleveland a championship. Also big shouts out to Kyrie Irving for his major role he also played in helping Cleveland make history, then following up with a Gold medal in the Olympics. I was in the hole for almost two years and made it out to see Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I’ve been hearing about Golden State but never seen them play—they are a really good team. They’re the fastest team I think I ever seen, plus get open so easy it’s crazy. But out of everything I saw this is my one question for the world: Where is Kevin Love? Because I don’t know that guy on Cleveland wearing No. 0. But thank you for the years of filling me in on my favorite sport while I’m in the hole or in the yard. Keep holding us down and giving us on an “Iron Vacation” a place to talk basketball. All love, Damon Williams, Cameron, MO


What’s going on SLAM??? First I want to congratulate you on your contribution to the basketball world and you making 200 interesting and motivating issues. I grew up reading SLAM and I believe that SLAM shaped who I am today. 2015-16 was one of the best seasons in basketball history, I can’t wait to see what the 2016-17 season has in store for us. I’m a subscriber, so I’ll be in tune even though I’ll be in the box for the next two years. #BALLISFORLIFE #SLAMISFAM #ONMYMAXOUT #2018CAN’TWAIT Fresh Lunchiano, Queens, NY I am 12 years old and a big, big fan. I have been collecting SLAM for a number of years. I loved Issue 200, no better cover than the legend himself MJ!!!!! I recently got KICKS 19, love the article on Jordan XXXI and Jordan I. Classics!! I have all your posters hanging up on my bedroom wall!!! My dad is a big fan of basketball. He still plays!!!! We live in Ireland. SLAM you have covered every player over the years from Magic, MJ, LeBron, KD, Iverson, Black Mamba, Shaq, Olajuwon and the Splash Brothers..... Thanks to the worlds No.1 bball magazine!! Eli Fitzgerald, Ireland




@KINGJAMES Appreciate you coming and showing my city love last night and they definitely returned the favor!! Keep soaring to places untouched homie and let’s continue to inspire! #King&Yeezus #StriveForGreatness #RWTW

Was good, SLAM! I want to say that SLAM is the dopest mag out period! I’m locked up right now up in the woods of New Hampshire and we don’t get much ball updates or news, so I really look forward to my SLAM coming every month. Plus I’m a super sneakerhead. I buy a pair of kicks once a month from SLAM KICKS and my wife saves them for me for when I get out at the end of the year. And that puts you guys above the rest.

@SLAMonline SLAMmagazine

I have been reading your PUNKS section every month. I love seeing our future. I’ll stay reading about their struggles and what they have accomplished already in life. It seems like no other may care about these things the way I do. And last but not least to all you LeBron haters out there, what ya got to say now? What can you say? Luis M. Carpio Berlin, NH


H Jesse D. Garrabrant NBAE via Getty Images

Rick Telander ey guys, smile! It’s gonna be OK. Well, it’s gonna be better than it was. I mean, how could it be worse? You 76ers have been through a lot, including serious soul evaluation, and that can be painful. But this is the way the big League works, so welcome to it: Your team gets lousy, your owner tanks, you lose game after game, you get some high Draft picks because you’re bad, some of them survive and flourish, and eventually the sky starts turning blue again instead of Philly blah. So forget that 0-17 start last season and the professional sports record streak of 27 straight losses (going back to the end of the 201415 season). And forget the 10-72 final record (the opposite of the 1996 Jordan-led Bulls, for those of you who are interested), and the

wonderful quote from longtime Philly AP beat writer Dan Gelston regarding covering the 76ers night after night: “The game stories are identical and meaningless.” Yes, it’s hard to throw up just 47 wins in three years—to go with 199 losses—but it can be done. And you did it. So let’s move on to sunshine—all these high Draft picks and rebuilding that comes from sustained ineptitude. Indeed, here comes the No. 1 overall

pick from this year’s Draft, 20-year-old Ben Simmons from LSU, a bouncy 6-10 action-creator who was born in Australia and should help the Sixers kangaroo-hop back to relevance. Oops! Simmons is not exactly hopping, is he? He’s more like staggering, since he came down on a teammate’s shoe in October, underwent surgery for an acute Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal of his right foot and is out for three months or so. Sadly,

that Jones thing is not named for the resilient Bobby Jones, a bouncy 6-9 former Sixer who was a multiple All-Star, eight-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team member and part of the 1983 NBA Champion 76ers. But please, smile, fellows. Or at least, grin. Silver linings exist. Golden rays do follow clouds. Everything’s up from the bottom. And you’ve seen the depths of the septic system.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 15

So happy that Ben McLemore is reunited with his pup Rolex. @matdavis916, you’re a hero… SLAM x Mr. Throwback dad hats are in super limited supply. Go cop!...For anyone planning on ever placing a bet against her: Susan likes her coffee iced with just a little milk, no sugar...Always amazing when it’s simple and painless to get a hold of NBA superstars but wildly difficult to get a hold of guys who can barely make the L…Wait, Joe Johnson is on the Utah Jazz?…



Minnesota Timberwolves 6-1, G

16 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M


nitely helped with my confidence,” Jones says. “When I was out there, I was trying to prove that I can be out there and make an impact on the game as best as I could.” After the Wolves’ season ended, Jones had his eyes set on Summer League. With the Wolves drafting Dunn, Jones definitely had to make himself stick out, and he did just that. Jones averaged 19.4 points, 6.3 assists and 4 boards and led

the Wolves squad to the Summer League Championship game, where he walked away with the Summer League MVP. “I just need to keep working. Just keep trying to improve in all areas of my game,” Jones says. “Keep trying to improve my body. I think just becoming a better leader and floor general and then continuing to find my niche in the League and on this team.” —Anel Ganic

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images


yus Jones has now made head coach Tom Thibodeau’s job much, much harder. Coming off an impressive Summer League performance, Jones is proving that he belongs in the L. Now, Thibs has the problem of deciding among Jones, Kris Dunn or Ricky Rubio for who gets the most clock at point guard. “Still trying to earn my spot in the League,” Jones says. “Year Two compared to Year One, I still think I have a lot to prove that I can play at this level.” Jones was fortunate enough to be chosen No. 24 by the Cavs in the 2015 Draft, but was then later traded to Minnesota, and his rookie campaign was a bumpy ride. He didn’t get much playing time in the first half of the season and was even sent to the D-League for a few games, but he returned after playing six games there. After the All-Star break, however, he was getting more minutes and was filling in as a solid role player. “The stint in the D-League defi-




DeRozan: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images; KG/TD: Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images; Dunn: Atuba Jefferson

DEMAR DEROZAN, THE BOOK FOR YOU IS… INTO THE WILD BY JON KRAKAUER DeMar, you have your Raptors on the rise, perched at the top of the East with the champs. There was no pressure on the Raptors as first-round Playoff fodder the past few years, but you ended that by going deep, turning what looked like a foregone conclusion into an actual series with Cleveland. You’ve

come a long way from Compton to Canada, so you should read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the story of a man who ventured farther than anyone thought he could. Krakauer tells the journey of Chris McCandless, who abandoned a “normal” life in pursuit of adventure. He tries to learn from the person he is studying, and this is the path you must take if you want to bring the

Raps to the Finals, and perhaps a ring. For the past half-decade, the only way to make it to the Finals from the East was to have LeBron James. That’s not happening, DeMar—you must find another way. It may be perilous, but you will have to find a way to make yourself and the team greater. Others have tried and fallen; Derrick Rose, the aging Celtics, the toughminded Frank Vogel-coached Pacers, the democratic Hawks whom you dispatched. How can you succeed where those others have failed? You must study the journey of a courageous explorer like McCandless. The book follows the trail. One thing that the author uncovered is that all of those whom McCandless told about the plan warn him that he needs to be better prepared, but his stubbornness won’t allow that, and it’s that iron will that can lead the Raps. —Sam Rubenstein

I’m getting used to… my apartment. I’m living by myself, doing my own decorating. I have a lot of my jerseys up—McDonald’s, my high school jersey, and I’m going to try to get some legends, like Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, KG, AI, Sean Taylor, RIP, up too. I also have some SLAMs, of course.

We’re working… on getting my wardrobe NBAready. I couldn’t pack everything from home, plus the weather is different in Minnesota, so I got to get a lot of big jackets, peacoats. I also have to get my suit game up, I have to look presentable when I’m walking in the tunnel. Right now, I’m styling myself—a stylist couldn’t style me. Haha!

Since I last wrote…

LINE OF THE MONTH LYRICS OF THE MONTH “I rhyme like ’94 Keith Murray, mixed with Steph Curry/ Golden State Warrior on a blessed journey,” “Constant Elevation,” Ras Kass, Intellectual Property: SOI2; “DeMarcus Cousins flow, I’m a underrated King,” Fabolous, “To The Sky,” Summertime Shootout 2; “Back the fuck up, you too little/Hit ’em with three like I’m Miller,” Young Thug, “Pick Up The Phone,” Jeffery; “Ever since I went out there and tapped it/She been sending me tickets to the Raptors,” Juicy J, “Plenty,” #MUSTBENICE. Hip-Hop and the NBA— any region of the map, any season of the year. TWIN TOWERS OF THE MONTH One refused to be called a center. The other refused to be a 7-footer. One rode perfect franchise synergy for five titles. The other had to relocate to understand that anything is possible. One had the ultimate poker face. The other generated raw volcanic emotion. Both wore 21, and both had indelible impact on the game of basketball. Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett. Legends of the game.


Shannon Booher

a survey came out where the rookies said I’m most likely to win Rookie of the Year. I appreciate they see how hard I work, but it could have been anybody. I think now we’re all just working to get accustomed to our teams, and we know it’s a long season. I appreciate it, though.

I’m filling some free... time with video games. I’m nice in NBA 2K and I only play with Minnesota. I play Madden, where I’m a Redskins guy. I also play Call of Duty, FIFA, Watch Dogs.

It’s almost… training camp right now and I can’t wait. I just want to compete with the guys, get to know their games, get to know how I’m going to play during the season, and get to know each other off court. I think chemistry will be very important for us.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 17

@EveryDamnSlam is still trucking along. Love it… Has a subpar team ever been as polarizing as the current incarnation of the Sixers?...We’re excited for the world to learn that Jaylen Brown might be the most interesting guy in the L… Serious question: Who’s the best basketball player/part-time chef in the League?...Congrats to #SLAMFam Alexis Morgan on her new gig with the Grizzlies. Best of luck in Grind City, Lex!...You high school basketball heads better be following @SLAMonline_HS on Twitter…


FAST AF Olympic Gold Medalist ALLYSON FELIX just so happens to be a lifelong Lakers fan with a Nike collection most sneakerheads can only dream about. What are your memories? We had a hoop in our backyard. Everyone would play at our house. I started organized basketball from elementary school through high school. My freshman year, that’s when I switched over to track.

WORLD-CLASS sprinter Allyson Felix is one of the fastest humans on the planet. She won her fifth and sixth Olympic Gold medals this summer in Rio, to go along with her total of nine Golds at the World Championships since 2005. She’s also a fixture in the sneaker community thanks to her Nike sponsorship and a keen eye for heat. And even though she eventually traded in her hoop dreams for track stardom, the L.A. native grew up playing, watching and falling in love with basketball and can often be spotted courtside at Laker games.

Which players did you look up to? I was into Grant Hill. My first pair of sneakers were Gary Paytons. But of course our idol was Michael Jordan. He was the focus of everything.

SLAM Why’d you start playing? AF I have an older brother. He’s two years older than me. I was pretty much into whatever he was, and he was into basketball. Everyone in our neighborhood was. That’s what sparked my love for it and got me into it. I loved the game and I was athletic, but I wasn’t the greatest.

Favorite sneaker to play in? Growing up, we couldn’t get the shoes we wanted, but I played in the Team Jordans. I think the Jordan Jumpman Team 1, the black-and-white and the white-and-blue. My favorite Jordan is the XI. The Playoff Jordans. I couldn’t get those. I remember taking a picture of one of my friends who had them and I put it on my wall. That was the dream.

Which NBA guys are you close to? Draymond Green is a friend. Chris Paul. Andre Iguodala. Do you watch a lot of NBA? I’m a season-ticket Lakers fan. I’m always watching. Who are your favorites to see live? It’s tough on my Lakers right now [laughs]. I enjoy the Warriors. I enjoy

PICTURE ME BALLIN’ ZENA EDOSOMWAN, Harvard This big man caught a lot of people by surprise when he made the decision to play ball at Harvard University. Zena Edosomwan traveled cross-country from California to Massachusetts and joined the Crimson, and the 6-9 stud recorded numbers that put him among the top of the Ivy League as a junior last year. In addition to his league-leading 9.9 rebounds a night, he posted 13.1 points (12th in the conference) on 50.3 percent shooting (seventh) and 1.2 blocks (seventh) per game. With his stats steadily increasing since his Harvard debut, he’ll surprise no one when he puts up even better numbers as a senior.

CAITLIN INGLE, Drake Bulldogs senior guard Caitlin Ingle has so many tricks up her sleeve, she’s earned the nickname “Swaggy C” among her teammates. The 5-8 Ingle routinely catches opponents off guard en route to getting buckets, whether for herself or via an assist. As a junior last season, Ingle finished fourth in the nation in assists (6.9 per game). She handed out 534 dimes in her first three years, already fourth all-time in Drake’s history. Pair that with her 9.7 points per game at 46.4 percent shooting, and it’s clear the Bulldogs are again in good hands for the upcoming season. —Habeeba Husain

Cleveland. I like good basketball, so whenever anyone is in town and I know it’s going to be good, I’m gonna get there. You’ve been to the last three Olympics. Do you go to those games? I’ve always been a big supporter of basketball and track is always the second week of the Olympics so I’m usually sitting back, watching their games through the first week. In the last Olympics, my really good friend Candace Parker, I got to see her games. That was cool. I didn’t get to see anything in person this year. There were a few close games this year, but typically the USA just dominates so I just like watching them put on a show. What are you looking forward to this upcoming NBA season? I’m just hoping to see good games. I’m interested to see how my Lakers are going young, see the new pieces. I know it’s going to be a tough season, but I’m excited to watch them. I’m interested to see what the Knicks are going to do. Are they finally going to get things together? Also with Kevin Durant to the Warriors, I’m excited to see how he will fit. Do you have a prediction? It seems like the Warriors are going to do it. Who knows? But if I were a betting person, I’d go with them. —Max Resetar

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Felix: AP Photo/Matt Slocum; Edosomwan: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images; Ingle: Baron Cao: Canada: ASUCLA Photography




llen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. UCLA junior Jordin Canada would like to take a moment to thank the two NBA legends. “Iverson for playing like [every game] was his last, and Kobe with the mental side of the game,” she says. “That’s what I got from watching both of them.” Those lessons are paying dividends for the 21-year-old PG known for her mixtape-worthy

handle and dizzying quickness. Coming off a season in which she led the Bruins in scoring (16.1 ppg), assists (5.6) and steals (2.3), Canada is now firmly in the conversation when it comes to the best point guard in the nation. But getting to this point did not come easy. Canada was thrust into the starting role early as a freshman and struggled so much that she considered quitting during the

season. She found her footing by the end of the year, helping UCLA to the school’s first WNIT Championship. The UCLA star finished the season with a crescendo, dropping 31 points in the title game on 9-19 shooting and 13-15 from the freethrow line. “At the end of that game, I was more confident in myself and I knew I could do this,” the 5-6 Los Angeles native says. “It was hard at the beginning, stepping into a role that I’ve never been in before. Playing in the WNIT, that just built my confidence even more and I knew that I could lead this team to better things.” Better things would indeed come in 2015-16. Canada’s Bruins finished with a 26-9 record and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the

first time in 17 years. “It proved to us that we can do anything we put our minds to,” she says. “If we continue to put in the work, we can get as far as we want.” Rest assured, Canada will be setting the tone in 2016-17 as she continues to go hard on every possession and train while most normal humans are still asleep. Call it the JC3 Mentality. —Ryne Nelson


The MLB Playoffs might tear the SLAM Dome apart…Is Brandblack throwing in the towel (basketball-wise)? Hope not…We’re counting on an @wzzntzz revival when the season starts…Be sure to peep former Bulls guard Craig Hodges’ memoir Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, coming out this winter with a foreword by our man Dave Zirin…DJ Stephens can really fly. Here’s hoping an NBA team gives him a roster spot, if only so we can see him in the NBA Dunk Contest…




hris Mullin moving to the Bay was a big deal. For him, for his family, for his friends. In 1985, there was no internet and there were no cell phones, at least not for regular folk. There was no NBA League Pass. For a kid who grew up in the deepest reaches of Brooklyn and attended college in the heart of Queens, getting drafted by a team based in Oakland was akin to being drafted by a team on Mars. I know, because I was there (more or less). Chris Mullin is only a few years older than me. Kids who grew up in or around New York City in those days knew the Celtics, the Lakers and the Knicks. The hardcore fans also knew the Nets and the Sixers. If we knew the Warriors (who were never on TV), it was as the crazy team with bright yellow unis and a dude named Sleepy who took all the shots. Mully didn’t know much more than us, honestly. He moved all the way across the country and had to leave most of his fam—of the blood and hanging out varieties— behind. He had to get his body on an NBA level. He had to manage expec-


tations of an impatient fan base he’d never even known existed. He had to manage a predilection for drinking away his pain that would get worse before he eventually got treatment and quit alcohol entirely. But the saying is true—game recognize game. And Chris Mullin had too much of it not to flourish. There was the shot, of course. Lefty. Smooth. Pure. His 18-footers (step off, stat nerds, Mully did his thing in the pre-analytics days and he did it damn well) were like putting a knife through butter that’s been sitting out for a day. Soft. And they went down, believe. Mullin averaged 14 points on 46 percent shooting from the field (90 percent from the line) as a rook and then began a decade-long run where he rarely averaged less than 15 ppg or shot below 50 percent from the field,

mostly on the strength of that shot. But it’s like I said before—dude had game, and that encompasses a whole lot more than a wet J. He wasn’t quick afoot, but his hands were lightning fast, making him a menace to sloppy dribblers or lazy passers, often gobbling up steals to the tune of 2-plus per game. His court vision was a thing of beauty, rendering cutters invisible to the untrained eye the recipients of a Mully dime that led to a lay-in. He could also weasel his way into the lane and steal rebounds from bigger, better-jumping opponents with his incredible court sense. Chris Mullin was a “shooting guard” in name only. His real position, at least as a young Warrior, should have been called, simply, “basketball player.” Eventually, recognition for all this followed. There were five All-Star

Games. Four All-NBA selections. A spot on the original Dream Team. And induction into the Hall of Fame. Inspired by his mind-bending feats on the court, and perhaps a little by his swag-without-trying buzzcut and New York accent, Mully was a fan favorite on both coasts whose appeal reached Middle America, too, when he later played in Indy. The New York accent survives to this day, which finds him back in Queens, trying to rebuild a onceproud St. John’s program that actually has some talent this season. And don’t be surprised—whether it’s to gain cred as a basketball historian, fan of his coach or just as a dude with great fashion sense—if you see hotshot SJU freshman Shamorie Ponds walking the streets of Jamaica in this throwback Warriors jersey. —Ben Osborne

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

New York native CHRIS MULLIN made his mark on the West Coast as one-third of the Warriors’ legendary Run-TMC trio.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 21

Stay up, Ben Simmons and Harry Giles…Yo Johnny Bounce, thanks for all of the letters, but we can’t read your handwriting and couldn’t fit those novels in Trash Talk even if we could. Edit ’em down...The Brooklyn Nets grew on us a lot this summer. Consider us big fans of the recent BK youth movement, fr fr…First Kobe, then Timmy, and now KG? So many legends retired this summer, man. We’re really about to start camping out for that 2021 Hall of Fame induction ceremony…D’Angelo Russell’s dogs are v dope...#CigarWednesdays




avid Burd, better known as Lil Dicky, got his first taste of mainstream success in 2016. In February, his Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan-assisted single “$ave Dat Money” peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s Hip-Hop chart, and in June he made the coveted XXL Freshman Class cover, a rite of passage for rap’s rising stars. Having accomplished all that, the 28-year-old from Cheltenham Township, PA, says now he has only one goal in mind. “I’ll know I’ve made it when I’m being handed the MVP trophy at the [NBA] Celebrity All-Star Game. Nothing would make me happier,” Dicky says. If you’ve seen the YouTube video of Dicky playing pickup hoops in Chicago (the clip is from 2014 but just recently went viral), you’ll understand why he yearns for a roster spot in the annual celebrity event.


At one point, while rocking Russell Westbrook’s USA jersey, Dicky cashed eight three-pointers in a row from NBA range. LD says his game most closely resembles that of fellow sharpshooter Stephen Curry. Comparing oneself to the reigning MVP is bound to raise some eyebrows, but Burd delivers solid reasoning. “Steph has evolved way past the point of my game, but when I saw Curry at Davidson, I saw how I played


when I was really on fire.” Surprisingly, Dicky never played or even tried out at Cheltenham High, located a half-mile from the Philly city border. The varsity team was loaded, and plus, Burd didn’t feel like lifting weights or learning offenses. So he settled for dominating local rec leagues and summer camps instead, a career highlighted by a game of one-one-one with Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph’s and Orlando Magic fame. Dicky lost 3-2, and afterward, his friends forced him to rap in front of Nelson and an entire camp of kids. “Now that I’m a rapper, it’s interesting, ’cause one of the key moments in my rap career literally happened on the basketball court,” he says. Burd was 13 when his hometown Sixers made the Finals, and he says the Tyronn Lue step-over remains his favorite memory in the history of

sports (high praise from someone who once squeezed 40-plus sports references into a single track). He also watched AI usher in the League’s “IDGAF” attitude. “I wonder, as a rapper now, how much that must’ve influenced me as a kid, seeing one of my main inspirations be so embedded in the hip-hop community,” he says. Dicky is keeping an eye on the Sixers and is currently on tour, where you can catch him in concert rocking an ill bball jersey—he’s got 60 in his closet—like one of his most prized possessions, a Jesus Shuttlesworth Lincoln uni. Mostly, though, the dude is gunning for a Kevin Hart-like celebrity game career. First, he’s gotta make the roster. “I don’t know what has to happen to make that happen. By all means, let’s start the campaign now.” —Eli Schwadron

Lacy Eakin

If you’re paying attention, you know 2016 XXL Freshman LIL DICKY drops crazy basketball references in his tracks on the regular. Not to mention, the Phillybred MC has serious game of his own.

SLAM Presents JORDANS Vol. 3 is on sale now (or will be soon!). Go get that…RIP to the Twitter handle “@m23jumpman911” (we won’t miss you, TBH)… #ProtectTheBrand!!!!...This year’s Media Day caused more “Wait, that player is on THAT team?” moments than any in recent memory…Shouts to our guy Skyzoo for rolling through the Dome last month. Go cop his new joint The Easy Truth with Apollo Brown now!...Stacey King almost literally turned “Antetokounmpo” into “Ay Caramba!” Definitely the highlight of the preseason…



SLAM What are your earliest basketball memories? NP The earliest memories I have of playing basketball are with my uncle. He always used to take me to Balboa Park [in San Diego]. We called it Muni. We’d play one-on-one and I’d shoot around with him. He would always beat me, but I’d get so upset and competitive that I’d never leave the court until I won, so he’d let me win a couple of games. You were a Lakers fan from the start, right? I became a Lakers fan watching old games—it was Larry Bird against Magic [Johnson], those matches. I instantly fell in love with the Lakers and then I had a deep connection with Kobe, just seeing his passion, grit and determination to be the best. Is it crazy that your first year in the League was Kobe’s last? Looking back now, it’s crazy. People keep asking me if I’m going to change my number back to No. 4 since [Luis] Scola isn’t here anymore, but nah. I’m keeping No. 24. It means something to me. Especially having a picture with Kobe where we both have No. 24 on. I can’t even put that into words. Knowing you played against him in his last season and played against him in his last game in Toronto is crazy. Did you know that DeMar DeRozan’s No. 10 was for Kobe’s Olympic number? I’m sure that if that was a guess on a multiple choice I would have selected that just because of how much of a


follower of Kobe he is. Just being in L.A. you can see, Kobe is L.A., DeMar is L.A. I look up to DeMar; DeMar looks up to Kobe. We all look up to Kobe. It’s fun that I’m wearing No. 24 and he’s wearing No. 10 and it all had something to do with Kobe. Even my numbers growing up had something to do with him. I started wearing No. 4, because in high school you couldn’t wear No. 8 so I wore No. 4 because of that. My travel ball team in AAU, No. 8 was taken, so I wore No. 16. There’s just always a connection to Kobe. He’s just a transcendent player. Everybody can find something to relate to him and make you love the game. Do you think work ethic is something you learn or something some people just understand instinctually? I think it’s both. You’ve got to watch, you’ve got to be able to be a good


observer of the things around you and you’ve got to be taught. People say, “Oh, you’re just born with it.” No, you’re not born with this. It’s something you’ve got to work on every single day. People think Michael Jordan was just gifted and was meant for this. No, he worked at it every single day to become the player that he was. Watching my mom struggle [when I was younger], really continue to fight, work to achieve the things she wanted, taking care of the family, getting to where she wanted to be with her career, pushing us with track-and-field, even on days when we didn’t feel like running, talking to us and teaching what it takes to be successful on and off the court or field, that was instilled in me at an early age. My uncle, being a father figure in my life, he did that as well. I think it was natural for me to be that type of player and have that type of focus.

Y h You have a ttattoo tt on your arm ffor your uncle who passed away when you were in high school. When you’re out there on the floor now, do you think back to those days at Balboa Park? Every time, before I step on the court, I thank him and I thank God. The national anthem is where I talk to myself about the game. When it’s over I look up in the stands and visualize him being there, tell him I love him, I miss him and this is for him. —Holly MacKenzie

Raptors: Dave Sandford/NBAE via Getty Images; Courtesy of Powell Family

After a four-year career at UCLA, NORMAN POWELL’s hoop dreams came true on Draft night when Toronto selected him with the 46th pick in 2015. Back when Powell was growing up in San Diego, those dreams were shaped by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.


MESSAGE It’s not a question of “if,” only “how” NBA players will follow the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick in protesting during the national anthem before games this season. When they do, make sure you’re not missing the point. always by

Dave Zirin


hen Victor Oladipo says the words, you can hear the excitement in his voice. “Oh, no question.” he told Complex Sports. “I truly believe [protests will come to the NBA]. Because at the end of the day it’s a sport, and people are gonna be looking at some guys in the NBA to see what they’re gonna do as well.” The OKC Thunder guard is one of many NBA players who are excited for the season because they’re anxious to extend the movement started by San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick into the NBA. Their thirst to be a link in this chain is partly driven by a sense of social responsibility and outrage over the police killings of unarmed black men and women, but also by a sense of competitiveness. The NBA has always been the league


that has been seen as the socially conscious corner of the sports world. Players take pride in the fact that they are the league of Jason Collins, the league of “I Can’t Breathe” shirts and the league that told Donald Sterling to take his ball and go home. Now here is Colin Kaepernick, who by just taking a knee, expressed what he has also spoken aloud, which is: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Dozens, by my count, of NFL players—some famous, some anonymous—have taken a knee or raised a fist during the anthem.

We have seen the protest spread from middle schools in Beaumont, TX, to high schools in places like Seattle, Oakland, Denver and Prince George’s County, MD. We have seen it at colleges. We have seen members of school bands, cheerleaders and Team USA soccer player Megan Rapinoe all take a knee and say that there is a gap between what that flag represents and the reality of police violence in this country. We know the NBA has players who are more than conscious about today’s issues. The League also has teams in Oklahoma and Charlotte, two places where the recent deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are sending shock waves through those regions. This is truly one of those moments where if a player—particularly a star—chooses to say nothing, it will be seen as political an act as them saying something. Already the League’s two most prominent coaches have made clear that they have no problem with players speaking out. Steve Kerr said, “No matter what side of the spectrum you are on, I would hope that every American is disgusted with what is going on around the country...Unarmed black people are being killed indiscriminately around the country. And that’s what happened two days ago. That’s the message. That’s what matters. Everyone should be trying to do something, whatever is in their

power, to help in that regard.” Gregg Popovich told me, “Our players are well aware they are engaged citizens who must make their own decisions based on what they deem to be relevant, valuable and appropriate.” The only outstanding question is how the League and fans will respond. Adam Silver and union chief Michele Roberts put out a joint statement that did not mention the anthem protests, but seemed to strongly suggest that players contact them if they want to do any activism; in other words, keep it off the court. The League has rules prohibiting players from protesting during the anthem, but that didn’t stop the WNBA’s Indiana Fever from all taking a knee before a playoff game, and they were not fined. My guess is that Silver will not punish anyone for any demonstrations. If the NFL isn’t doing it, then the NBA has to accept the fact as well that these are the times we are in. The fans are a different story. The NBA is a majority black league with a majority white fan base. The hope is that white fans will make the choice to support players who are risking endorsements and inviting death threats by taking a stand. That’s the hope. If you are reading this, argue with your white friends that the moment calls for solidarity, not ignorance and certainly not hate. If your NBA players are good enough to cheer, then they should matter enough to hear.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

A huge shout out to #SLAMFam Cheo Hodari Coker for showing us some love in the first episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage. Show is dope, go watch it on Netflix…The Warriors are loaded with superstars, but none are cooler than our man Raymond Ridder…The Nuggets have a lowkey fire squad that could make a little noise out west…We like Bob Hurley way more than Mike Pence, but they do look exactly alike, no?…Bill Nunn…Marcus Mondaine…Jose Fernandez….Arnold Palmer… Anthony Rios…DeSean Welch


WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES… As a teenage prodigy, some touted DEMETRIUS WALKER as the “Next LeBron.” After a long-winding journey, the 26-year-old is back coaching JV ball at his old high school, sharing his story with the next generation.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images


first realized I was nice in hoops when I was about 8. I remember I was playing on a middle school hoop with a low rim when one of my guys threw me an oop and I went off two feet and just dunked it. I was like, I’m actually pretty good. When I was 10, I went from playing at the Boys & Girls Clubs to playing on the top AAU team, the Inland Stars. Our coach, Joe Keller, took us to a bunch of tournaments. I think people in the stands—the recruiters—looked at me as the best player on the best team. They decided to make me the No. 1 player in the country by the time I was 12. Then the whole Sports Illustrated “Next LeBron” thing happened at 14. The experience itself, like the photo

shoot and all that, was amazing. Afterward, I gained a lot of notoriety. When I would walk into gyms, kids my age would ask me for autographs. At the time, it was mind-blowing. On the outside looking in, people maybe had different expectations for me in high school. For me, though, I was happy. In my sophomore year at Fontana (CA) High, I embraced who I was and realized I was a Division I player. I made the decision to transfer to JSerra for my junior year, where I got to play against the Wear twins, Klay Thompson and a bunch of D-I players. After my junior year, I transferred to St. Mary’s in Phoenix and finally won the state championship I wanted my entire high school career. In college everything happened so

fast, but I can pinpoint growth every year. When I was at New Mexico, a book was published about my childhood development and really put me back in the spotlight. While there, I graduated with a degree in Mass Communication and Psychology. Then I went to Grand Canyon University, played on their first D-I team and got my Master’s in Management and Leadership. I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, so to do it once was amazing, but to do it twice was surreal. Right now, I’m the JV coach at

JSerra, the same school I attended. I was never a part of a JV program, so this is a great opportunity and a great way to pass on knowledge from my experiences. In that sense, I hope to start speaking to teams at all levels about everything that has prepared me and can prepare them for life. In the longer run, I hope to get my doctorate degree in business and I want to become a D-I coach. After all my years in the game, I’m happier and hungrier than ever. This is the next chapter of my story. –As told to Tzvi Twersky

© 2016 Comedy Partners. All rights reserved.










Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

−Russ Bengtson


earing a single-digit number with the Boston Celtics is not only prestigious, it’s actually getting more and more difficult to even do. Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 6 are retired, 5 likely will be, and numbers 0, 4 and 8 were already taken by vets. This left 9 and 7, which went to rookies Demetrius Jackson and Jaylen Brown respectively. Brown becomes the 20th Celtic to wear No. 7, last seen on Jared Sullinger and also worn by Hall of Famer Tiny Archibald toward the end of his career. Kenny Anderson wore it, as did Al Jefferson. The most famous Celtic to wear No. 7, however, was also named Brown—Dee Brown—who, as a rookie, won the Dunk Contest while simultaneously inventing the dab. He played seven and a half seasons with the Celtics, never becoming an All-Star but remaining a fan favorite. Jaylen Brown, just 19, wasn’t even born when Dee won his Dunk Contest crown. And this preseason jam against the post-Process Sixers will obviously never supplant Dee’s no-look in Celtics lore. But if the 6-7 rookie can play up to his potential, eventually that No. 7 Celtics jersey may be remembered for a different Brown instead.



Rather than rank every NBA team from top to bottom, we enlisted the help of some of our favorite rappers to recap the biggest moves from the summer and predict how the 2016-17 NBA season will play out.








I think the Knicks will improve. I actually do think Derrick Rose is gonna be All-Star Derrick Rose. Maybe not MVP, but really good.

It’s a major play at a ring for KD to make that move, but I feel bad for Westbrook, being a fan of his game. He’s gonna have to carry that Thunder team now by himself.



Respect to D-Wade, but Horford was the best player to change teams in the East this summer, giving Boston a puncher’s chance of knocking off the Cavs.

Adding Durant to a lineup that already includes Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala is easily the scariest free-agent acquisition in the history of the NBA.







KRIS DUNN I love Kris Dunn. I think the Wolves hit a home run in the Draft being able to get him. They’re going to get Rookie of the Year three years in a row.



LOS ANGELES LAKERS Because of Kobe’s absence and lack of a deep bench, the Lakers. The main reason is, there’s no Black Mamba. He’s gone, and I don’t want to make fun of nobody, but they have a mediocre bench.




Luke Walton will give the No. 2 pick enough minutes to shine on a Lakers team that desperately wants to foster its young talent. Word to the Rookies Most Likely...(pg. 40)

The Nets would be honored in this space were it not for the Ben Simmons injury, which throws a wrench into what was supposed to be an improved Sixers team.




Previous spread: Jason Miller/Getty Images; Dicky: Easton Schirra; Rose: Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images; Kid Ink: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for BET; Durant: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images; Skyzoo: TK; Dunn: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images; Z-Ro: Touché; Russell: Harry How/Getty Images






If your brain works, you would have to say Cleveland. Off free agency, Indiana’s gonna be stronger this year. So are the Knicks, Detroit, Washington and don’t sleep on the Bulls. The East will be good, but the King is always the top tier to come out of the East.

I’m going with the Warriors. That team is like a Dream Team right now, I know they’re going to have a crazy season this year over there in Golden State.



Jadakiss: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images; Irving: Jason Miller/Getty Images; Monty: Leon Dash; Thompson: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images; ASAP Twelvvy: Justin Hogan; Westbrook: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images; Cam’ron: Courtesy of Reebok: James: Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images




As Jada points out, we’d be fools not to pick the Cavs, who are still the cream of the crop in the East, with LeBron and Kyrie leading the Wine & Gold.

Who’s stopping this team? Seriously. The Spurs? Blazers? Clippers? Come playoff time, the Dubs just have too much sauce.



The 2016-17 MVP will be Russy Westbrook. Nobody can stop a madman with vengeance in his heart. Don’t hate on the brodie.

Cavaliers, definitely. Golden State has all these names but I don’t know how their chemistry is. I’m not going against LeBron until proven differently.



LEBRON JAMES The Warriors may be the NBA’ss new “super team,” but there’s still only one basketball, and LeBron will once again post eye-popping stats for the defending champions.



GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS A third consecutive Cavs-Warriors Finals feels inevitable, and our $ is on GSW to take back the crown.


What more needs to be said? LBJ solidified his place among the five best of all time while once again proving that he’s the single most dominant player on the planet. He’s now only chasing MJ’s legacy—more than enough motivation to stay on top.

2 STEPHEN CURRY Curry only needs a millisecond to get a shot off, and regardless where it comes from, it’s probably going in. No matter what anyone says, he truly is the most dangerous shooter to ever play the game.

3 RUSSELL WESTBROOK Westbrook will be singing Lil Uzi Vert all season long: Now I do what I want. With OKC shifting the weight of the franchise squarely on his shoulders, it’s quite possible we’ll see Russ average close to a trip-dub and in the running for MVP.

4 KEVIN DURANT While it was as awkward ranking KD at 4 as it probably is reading it, we stand by this statement. A new system, new teammates...he won’t always be the main guy in GS. But he wants to win, and if that means taking a backseat some nights, he gladly will.

5 KAWHI LEONARD Last season, Kawhi finished second in MVP voting, third in three-point percentage (44.3) and won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. Not a bad year. The scary thing is, Kawhi still has room to improve.

6 ANTHONY DAVIS The hype is subdued surrounding AD and the Pelicans, and that may be a good thing. With the spotlight elsewhere, they can build without the pressure placed on them last season. And remember: AD can do things that video games can’t.

7 JAMES HARDEN Capable of getting hot in a second or getting your best big in foul trouble, Harden is focused on winning more than ever. As long as he has shooters to space the floor and a center to set screens, he’s going to be damn near impossible to stop.

8 PAUL GEORGE He’s back. Playing 81 regular-season games and a seven-game playoff series, PG-13 alleviated questions about his durability. He’s making smarter decisions with the ball and taking better-quality shots, and of course, is still a defensive menace.

9 DEMARCUS COUSINS Boogie has the size and talent to be the most dominant player on the court every night. What he doesn’t have is stability on the sidelines or among his supporting cast. With some direction and coaching, he could be top-five in years to come.

10 DAMIAN LILLARD Last season, Dame proved that he was not only capable of leading a team, but he could lead a team well into the Playoffs. There aren’t many players you’d rather have with the ball in their hands in a close game.

James: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images; Curry: Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images; Westbrook: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images; Durant: Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images; Leonard: Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images; Davis: Tyler Kaufman/NBAE via Getty Images; Harden: Troy Fields/NBAE via Getty Images; George: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images; Cousins: Steve Yeater/NBAE via Getty Images; Lillard: Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Our Top 50 list isn’t the only one out there, but it’s the only list that really matters. Here’s how we see the NBA’s best shaking out this season.


Paul: Troy Harvey/NBAE via Getty Images; Irving: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images; Thompson: Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images; Griffin: Troy Harvey/NBAE via Getty Images; Anthony: Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images; Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images; Green: Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images; Wall: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images; Aldridge: Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images: Butler: Ken Carl/NBAE via Getty Images; Towns: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images; Lowry: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images; Drummond: Rick Osentoski/NBAE via Getty Images; Jordan: Troy Harvey/NBAE via Getty Images; DeRozan: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images; Thomas: Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images; Antetokounmpo: Tom Lynn/NBAE via Getty Images; Horford: Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images; Gasol: Brandon Dill/NBAE via Getty Images; Millsap: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images; Wade: Ken Carl/NBAE via Getty Images



He’s driving the ball less and taking more midrange jumpers, but CP3 is still CP3. He’s the best facilitator in the game by a longshot, and his competitive drive makes him a player you love to play with and hate to play against.

Scrappy, focused and hard-working have always described Lowry’s game. Armed with a deadly three-point shot, devastating handle and bulldog mentality, he can compete with any point guard in the L.



The PG solidified his rep as one of the baddest players on the planet by averaging 25.2 points on 47.5 percent shooting through the Playoffs. And he hit the biggest shot of the season to give the Cavs a permanent lead in Game 7. He’s a certified star.

After averaging almost 15 rebounds per game and getting his first rebounding crown last season, Dre is hungry for more. His ability to anticipate and box out, plus his agility and size make him the favorite to lead the NBA in rebounding for the foreseeable future.



Thompson has one of the purest jumpshots ever. His ability to go crazy in a quarter is rivaled only by his fellow Splash Bro. In addition to proving himself capable off the dribble, he never takes a possession off on defense. He’s a complete player.

As freakish an athlete as they come, DJ knows his role and performs it to perfection. Catching lobs, setting screens, swatting shots and anchoring the Clipper defense, Jordan is a menace on the court.



With injuries behind him, Griffin is ready for a major reclamation season. We may not be treated to quite as many dunks as we’re accustomed to, but Griffin will be putting up his usual 20, 8 and 5 before kicking it up a notch for the Playoffs.

One of the elite scorers in the game, DeRozan gets to the line at will and puts the ball in the hoop from anywhere within the three-point arc. He may never be a great three-point shooter, but the eight-year vet simply knows how to get buckets.



Melo quietly just had one of the best seasons of his career. His ability to score has aged like fine wine while his ability as a playmaker took a quantum leap. Whether he’s facilitating the offense or creating it by himself, he’s a very dangerous player.

After Thomas was named an All-Star and led the Celtics to 48 wins, the so-called doubters have been very quiet regarding this 5-9 PG. He’s a gifted playmaker who can always get to the basket. One All-Star selection isn’t enough for this sixth-year pro.



After a magical regular season, at least a few things will have to recalibrate before GS can make their title run in ’17. One is Green’s role in the offense. The Warriors will have to find a way to keep Dray involved if they want to be raising the trophy in June.

Year 4 for the Greek Freak should be a wild and exciting ride. Giannis thrived as the Bucks’ PG toward the end of the regular season, and with his length and athleticism, he’ll continue to do so.



Wall could be pain-free for the first time in a few years and he’s excited to prove that he’s more than just a very good PG—he’s an elite one. A fully healthy Wall will get everyone uncontested looks in Washington and be breaking ankles in the process.

Horford left the Hawks after nine years to pursue a Championship in Boston this season. Make no mistake, Brad Stevens will have a lot of fun deploying Horford in a bevy of small-ball lineups that should rival the Warriors’ Death Lineup in efficiency.



As talented a big man as we’ve seen, Aldridge fit in seamlessly with the Spurs last season. A silky jumper and post moves for days are big reasons why Aldridge will continue to dominate for years to come.

Gasol missed 30 games last season with a broken right foot, but he looks on track to be 100 percent by the start of the regular season. When healthy, he’s one of the most gifted passing centers in the game and one of the best defenders out there.



Butler famously bet on himself during the summer of ’14, and ended up becoming an All-Star and the NBA’s MIP. Jimmy Buckets earned a max deal from the Bulls and has since solidified his rep as one of the premier two-way players in the game.

Millsap has carved out an incredible career for himself after being selected 47th overall in the 2006 Draft. The three-time All-Star will once again be one of the League’s most underrated players, doing it all for the Hawks with little to no fanfare.



Towns makes his #SLAMTop50 debut as one of the 20 best players this season, deservedly so. He defends centers and wings, plays with his back to the basket, shoots threes and runs the floor. It’s said he’s the prototype big, and who are we to argue?

Wade surprised the world by calling Pat Riley’s bluff and signing with the Bulls. No matter the jersey, though, he will be the same old Wade oncourt. He doesn’t take over like he used to, but he won’t have to as often with Jimmy Butler around.



Elite athleticism, excellent defensive instincts, a developing post game and an outside shot are the tools we’ve seen in Years One and Two. It’s time for Wiggins to put all the pieces together and make the leap in 2016-17.

The quest for another ring continues in San Antonio next season for Gasol. He may not have the same All-Star output during the regular season for Pop’s Spurs, but rest assured, Gasol will still be schooling youngins in the post and the pick-and-roll.



One of the first players to taste the riches of the NBA’s new TV deal, Conley now has the largest contract in the NBA. The textbook PG certainly deserves the contract and likely won’t be one to rest on his laurels now that he’s signed through 2021.

If you watched CJ destroy Duke in the ’12 NCAA Tourney, you knew it was only a matter of time before he made noise in the NBA. After patiently waiting his turn, now he and Dame Lillard form one of the highest-scoring duos in the NBA.



One of the most solid wings in the game, Hayward can put the ball on the floor, knock down the outside shot and get to the line with ease. He says he wants to be an All-Star this season, which sounds like a worthy and attainable goal for the seventh-year pro.

Ibaka has changed his game completely over the past couple seasons in OKC. While he’s an invaluable defender on the pick and roll, we’d like to see him closer to the basket, where he thrived in the early part of his career. Perhaps Frank Vogel agrees.



Once an unknown commodity who was a bit of a loose cannon, Whiteside became the Heat’s anchor. A freakish athlete able to swat away any shot, Whiteside has a sneaky mid-range game that complements his thunderous rolls to the basket.

E-Bled has suffered several season-ending injuries over the years, but when he’s 100 percent, he’s more than a handful on the court, able to finish through all kinds of traffic and completely lock down guards on the other end.



Howard made the right move and brought his talents back to where it all began. The home crowds will present the perfect place for Howard to regain confidence and go back to what he does better than almost anyone in the League: Dominate the paint.

Beal got his max deal over the summer. Now it’s time for the 23-year-old to show and prove. He has all the potential to become one of the premier two-way players in the League—he just needs to stay healthy.



Walker is making his #SLAMTop50 debut, and it’s about time. He played at an All-Star level last season, guiding a banged up Hornets squad to within one game of the second round. He’s as clutch as they come.

Is Bosh’s career over? Something tells us CB will be suiting up again this season. Whether it will be after Christmas or the All-Star break is anyone’s guess, which is why we ranked him much lower than his actual value.



What a difference a year makes. One year ago, Porzingis was the laughingstock of the 2015 Draft class. Now, he’s the Knicks’ franchise player and heir apparent to Carmelo Anthony. We can’t wait for a few more monstrous putback dunks this season, too.

Entering his second season at just 19, Booker is the youngest player on this year’s #SLAMTop50. With a scorer’s mentality, a picture-perfect jumper and the ability to put the ball on the floor, he’s got All-Star Games in his future.



The last player on the #SLAMTop50 who played in the ’90s, Nowitzki will certainly go down as a paradigm-shifting big man. For now he’s content with getting as many buckets as he can and leading the Mavs to yet another postseason.

The past two seasons, Favors has averaged 16 and 8 with more than a block per game. He’s as consistent as they come. The Jazz will rely on Favors to be their rock as they make a serious playoff push.



Sure, he wasn’t great in the Playoffs, but he came through when it mattered most, stopping Stephen Curry in the final minute of Game 7. Don’t plan on him turning into a defensive ace, but you can expect more big plays and an increased role in the offense.

With Byron Scott out and Kobe Bryant retired, Russell will get a chance to remind everyone why the Lakers took him No. 2 overall in the first place. As L.A.’s starting point guard, the future of the Lake Show is in his hands.



After an injury-plagued ’15-16 campaign, it’s easy to forget the incredible hype surrounding Gobert after Utah promoted him to starting center in ’15. He’s a shot-blocking, alley-ooping machine with a standing reach just inches from the rim. What’s not to like?

He proved in the Playoffs what OKC fans have known: The 23-year-old, 7-footer is the modernday center—agile enough to switch on pick-androlls, tough enough to bang for boards and quick enough to keep up with small-ball lineups.


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All eyes are on Golden State, where championship or bust is the motto this season—because with KEVIN DURANT and STEPHEN CURRY on the same roster, the 2016-17 Warriors are one of the most loaded teams in the history of the NBA. Let them be great. BY P E TE R WAL S H



Media Day is an odd way to celebrate the start of the NBA season. Instead of partaking in on-court action, players are whisked through a cycle of media responsibilities and peppered with questions that range from bizarre to silly to—on rare occasion—thought-provoking. Since no basketball has been played in months, guys are often asked to weigh in on hot topics in the national conversation—this year, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest during the national anthem is discussed with nearly every player—or how they spent their summers, or what they hope to accomplish over the course of the next six months. The process itself is jarring. Cameras flash everywhere as players go through a gauntlet of TV interviews, press conferences, photo shoots, radio hits, podcast spots, Snapchats, tweets and flicks for the ’gram. There are strong “first day of school” vibes. Out in Oakland, the calendar reads late September but it feels like mid-July as the temperature creeps into the mid-’90s. Though players aren’t scheduled to show up for another few hours, the Warriors’ training facility is already starting to fill up with camera crews, media and team staff members waiting to get a glimpse of two of the game’s biggest stars side-by-side as teammates for the first time. By our estimation, it is the highest-attended Media Day across the League (perhaps in history even), and for good reason. Not since LeBron joined the Heat in the summer of 2010 has a basketball team captivated the country to this degree. The team, which has been cast as the NBA’s new villain, will be the League’s most covered—maybe the most covered in all of sports—and Warriors PR guru Raymond Ridder


is going through an exhausting list of beat reporters and national writers who will be covering the squad on a day-to-day basis. As you make your way through the very top floor of the Oakland Convention Center, massive photos of Warriors greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin and Al Attles line the walls. Any minute now, a group of young millionaires, many of whom will join the aforementioned legends on the wall when their respective careers are over, will enter the building. Once Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant show up and start to pose for portraits, a small hysteria takes over the gym, as everyone tries to get a look at the back-to-back MVP and his new running mate. Despite the crowd that has surrounded them, Curry and KD are at ease, joking and laughing together. Spirits are high, as they should be—the greatest regular-season team of all time just added one of the five best players in the League, and one of

the most prolific scorers in NBA history. Even in person, it’s hard to fathom. Dark Knight feelin’, die and be a hero Or live long enough to see yourself become a villain I went from the favorite, to the most hated… —Jay Z, “So Appalled” KD was the the NBA’s darling. While LeBron dominated over the past decade, Durant became the people’s champ. A humble kid with unbelievable talent, Durant was a pillar in the Oklahoma City community and wasn’t scared to publicly nudge James for leaving Cleveland for Miami while he quietly signed his own extension with the Thunder back in the summer of 2010. His success and popularity peaked during the 2013-14 season, when he won the MVP award and won fans’ hearts with a teary-eyed dedication to his mother during his acceptance speech. This past season, Durant’s future and the Warriors’ chase for 73 wins were the biggest storylines in the NBA. Little did anyone know that the two were on a collision course that would shake up the entire landscape of professional basketball. As the season wore on, a February report from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical suggested Durant was considering leaving OKC and the Warriors had a real shot at getting him. The thought seemed so outlandish that other high-profile media members laughed it off and doubted the legitimacy of the report, even calling it “idiotic.” [Never doubt Woj!—Ed.] In most people’s eyes, there was no way KD would leave the franchise he was so integral in building, especially with a player like Russell Westbrook as his P.I.C.


“I’ma be WHO I AM every single DAY. I’m gonna APPROACH the GAME the same way I’ve ALWAYS approached it.


In the Western Conference finals, Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder held a 3-1 lead over the Warriors. They were on the cusp of facing LeBron and the Cavs in the Finals. And then, thanks to Klay Thompson’s heroics in Game 6 and 36 points from Curry in Game 7, the Thunder were sent packing. It was another disappointing end for Durant, an outcome that was becoming frustratingly routine in OKC. During his exit presser in June, KD was asked about his future and where he would sign in a few weeks. While he deflected most of the prompts, he did reveal what he was looking for during the decisionmaking process: “Most important thing for me is the type of people I’m around every day and if I enjoy playing basketball,” he said. “That’s what I’ll center everything around...Winning a championship is what we all want to do. But at the same time, you want to be around good people, you want to be around a good environment and good coaching. That’s what’s most important to me.” After the Warriors and Cavs duked it out in an all-time great Finals matchup, Durant dipped to the Hamptons in Long Island for a little R&R and to set up shop for meetings with potential suitors. The visiting teams pulled out all the stops. The Celtics brought along Tom Brady. The Heat came strapped with master salesman Pat Riley. The Warriors pitched “Strength in Numbers”— with Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all present for the meeting—and a chance to win championships immediately. It was everything Durant said he was looking for. On July 4, 2016, the basketball world came to a screeching halt. “The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player—as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.” The immediate backlash against Durant was intense. Popular media figures took shots at him. Former players blasted him. Local Oklahoma City rappers made diss songs. The internet ran wild with memes and jokes. When a Thunder “fan” used a Durant jersey as a target for his assault rifle, the backlash went to a dark, scary place.



In the dog days of the offseason, old heads like Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller took verbal shots at Durant for heading West. But for better or worse, NBA legacies are defined by rings. It’s the reason Robert Horry is considered a potential Hall of Famer and not remembered for being a mostly marginal role player who bounced around the League. It’s the reason Kobe spent the last 20 years obsessively chasing Michael’s six rings. It’s the reason why Curry, Green, Thompson, Iguodala and the Warriors’ brass traveled across the country to meet with Durant. Durant’s decision wasn’t about money, MVP awards, sneaker deals or publicity. It was about putting himself in the best position to win a ring (or rings, plural) and enjoy himself along the journey. As the vitriol hit its peak, Durant found solace in Rio de Janeiro, of all places, as Team USA made the trip for the Olympics. Not only did we see KD loosen up and smile as he cheered on his fellow Olympians at their respective events, basketball fans got a glimpse of how dominant a player like Durant can be on a team surrounded by star players. The entire experience was therapeutic for KD. “I think it was a blessing in disguise for him just to be away,” says basketball lifer and the architect of Team USA, Jerry Colangelo. “I think there would have been a great deal more attention had he been in the States. I think that was a little bit of refuge for him. He was very happy, he was very excited and he was happy to get away. “When I met him for the first time, he was a freshman at the University of Texas. I was at the Final Four in Atlanta and getting out of a car in front of the hotel and Kevin was walking up to the front of the hotel with a couple buddies,” continues Colangelo. “We stopped them and I introduced myself and he knew who I was and he had this wide-eyed look on his face. I said, Kevin, I don’t know what your plan is for staying in school or going to the Draft, but it doesn’t matter to me, I want to invite you to our USA Olympic camp. And he was excited. He said, ‘You can count on me! I’ll be there.’ And that was my first introduction to Kevin Durant.” Durant certainly isn’t that wideeyed kid anymore. He’s developed a bit of an edge over his time in the NBA. At Media Day, though, it’s obvious that being around a new team has him feeling refreshed and energized. “It’s becoming more and more realistic with each day that goes by,” says Durant. “Now that I’m here at Media Day with my jersey on and with all my teammates, it’s real. I’m excited, man. It was a fun, fun summer—a different summer than I ever experienced, and for the most

part it was good to go through. I’m ready to go, I’m ready to play and I’ve been anxious to play.” I don’t know what the fuss is, my career is illustrious My rep is impeccable, I’m not to be fucked with. —Jay Z, “Success” CURRY, a 6-3 baby-faced assassin, overcame worrisome ankle injuries that plagued him early in his career and proceeded to take the NBA by storm with unreal handles, unlimited range and a playground-type game so refined that on some nights, Warriors games looked more like NBA 2K than real life. His stature and story from an under-recruited prospect to two-time MVP resonated with kids who aren’t 6-10 superhumans, and made him beloved in gyms and living rooms across the globe. In 2014-15, he went toe-to-toe with LeBron and won, becoming a global icon in the process and flipping the NBA on its head with never-before-seen three-point barrages. Leading up to the 2015-16 season, most assumed that Curry had peaked. Nah, son. In the very first game last season, he dropped 40. Four days later, he put up 53. He followed that up by smashing the singleseason record for three-pointers, leading the Dubs to a regular-season record 73 wins and becoming the first unanimous MVP in League history. Not a bad encore. In the 2016 Playoffs, everything fell apart. Hampered by injuries, Curry wasn’t himself. And while he displayed some flashes of brilliance, he limped to the Finals for a rematch with LeBron and the Cavs. As exhilarating as it was to bounce back from a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals, blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals will haunt Curry

and the Warriors forever. Golden State learned first-hand how slim the margin is between immortality and failure, and it’s not a fleeting feeling. “The truth is, that’s a pain you’re never gonna forget for the rest of your life,” says Green. “Whether you use it for motivation or not, I mean, in this organization we want to win, so we don’t need any other motivation.” In the Playoffs, Curry and the Warriors’ popularity dissipated. Once praised for his hard work and hustle, Green was now being dismissed as a dirty player for his below-the-belt shots that resulted in a one-game suspension during the Finals. Curry, arguably one of the most beloved players in League history, wasn’t spared, either. The two-time MVP was criticized for his shaky defense and his celebrations after hitting big shots. “It didn’t bother me much at all,” says Curry. “You talk about how the Finals ended, it obviously didn’t go our way, it didn’t go my way. What are you going to do about it? What’s next? That’s how I feel about it. I never got too wrapped up in the praise, either. It’s obviously a much better feeling but I don’t feed off that. It doesn’t change the way I play, it doesn’t change who I am. The criticism, you hear it, you have a human emotional reaction to it and you move on. It doesn’t really bother me or affect my daily life, or how I play the game.” Curry, who looked to be noticeably bulked up at Media Day, has a lot to prove after the way the Finals went. What’s scary for the rest of the League is last season may have been a warmup. With Durant in tow and Klay and Draymond now reaching superstar status, Curry will see more one-on-one defense than he did all of last season, making his potential stats absolutely mind blowing.

“The CRITICISM, you hear it, you HAVE a human EMOTIONAL REACTION to it and you MOVE ON. It doesn’t really BOTHER ME or affect my DAILY LIFE, or how I PLAY the game.” —SC

First they love me, then they hate me, then they love me again. — Jay Z, “Meet the Parents” the Warriors are the NBA’s new villains. Unfortunately, that’s often what comes with greatness. It wasn’t until the end of LeBron’s run in Miami that fans began to appreciate just how amazing those Heat teams were. From a purely basketball-viewing standpoint, though, the Dubs will be an absolute joy to watch. On any given night, texts between basketball junkies will be flying. “Oh shit, Steph is going off!” followed by, “Yo, and KD has 40!” Never mind the fact that a hot Klay Thompson can give a team 30-plus in a quarter and Draymond is a walking triple-double. The team will miss the contributions of fill-in coach Luke Walton (now the Lakers’ head coach), Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes (both with the Mavs), Festus Ezeli (Blazers) and Leandro Barbosa (Suns), but a player like Kevin Durant makes up for any and all losses. “There were some holes and weaknesses that we had and we got a monster that fills them all,” says Iguodala. “We got a monster on our team now, and it’s going to be really fun to see him play. We don’t have too many weaknesses with a guy like that.” All eyes will be on the Warriors. And every move they make will be dissected and broken down ad nauseam. Golden State is must-see TV. The Dubs know that with the addition of Durant, their team will be under a microscope the whole season. “There’s no more pressure than there was last year,” Curry insists. “Coming off a Championship, trying to defend that, the regular season we had, getting to a Game 7 of the Finals, that was so much fun. That’s what you live for, that’s what you play for. This year, we’re as confident as we were last year, but it will be a different journey. Our expectations are really, really high, as they should be...Every year on [Media Day] you can’t fast forward to April, you have to stay in the moment. For us, that’s even more important with the changes we made. Take each day as an opportunity to get better.” His media duties fulfilled, Curry grabs a ball and hoists the first and only shot he’ll take today before he leaves the court. Swish. The first of hundreds of three-pointers that he’ll drain over the next six months while wearing a Warriors jersey. As Steph heads for unseen quarters, Durant makes his final statements: “I’ma be who I am every single day. I’m gonna approach the game the same way I’ve always approached it. Nothing’s changed except my jersey.” S


S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 47

Ten years ago he was the most hated kid in college basketball. Today, 32-year-old JJ REDICK is the ever-steady starting shooting guard of the Clippers. How’d he get here? It’s all in the details. BY YAR O N WEITZMAN 48 SL AMONLINE .COM


Workout complete, JJ Redick is on his way to a local Whole Foods when he answers his phone. “Picking up dinner for the next few nights,” he says as he searches for a spot to park his black Chevy Tahoe. It’s been a busy afternoon, and offseason, for the Clippers shooting guard. Such is life when your wife’s impending labor thrusts you into the role of Mr. Mom. Take today, for example. Up at 6:30 to watch Team Umizoomi and Blaze and the Monster Machines and other Nick Jr. shows with his 2-year-old son, Knox. Then three hours at the Clippers’ practice facility. Afterward there was a trip to the bank to deposit a check from an escrow account followed by a visit to a local bike shop to fix a busted tire on Knox’s stroller. That repair, dad was told, would take 45 minutes, which is perfect because he wanted to swing by the grocery store anyway. Knox needs more yogurt and Redick needs some ingredients for the pork tacos he plans on whipping up tonight. When he gets home, Redick will strap Knox on to the back of his bike and peddle to the park. After that he’ll make dinner, put “my boy”—always “my boy”—to sleep, say goodnight to his wife, check out some watch websites (“I’m really into Daytonas right now”), scroll through Twitter, Business Insider and HoopsHype, prepare for an episode of his podcast that will feature former New York Times writer William C. Rhoden—a man he describes as a hero of his—clean the kitchen, put away all of Knox’s toys, perhaps give in to his OCD and rearrange his watch box or his impeccably kept closet where clothes are organized by type and color, then continue his deep dive into the world of financial markets. That started because he recently watched the History Channel documentary The Men Who

Built America, which triggered a JP Morgan obsession, which led to Redick wanting to know everything he possibly could about the Federal Reserve, and now he’s reading about fixed income securities and is midway through the book The Physics of Wall Street but won’t stay up later than 9:30 reading it, or anything else, because tomorrow is another day. “My offseason is like Groundhog Day,” Redick says. “Every day is exactly the same. I love it.” Listening to Redick is inspiring because he makes you feel like you can do anything and everything—until you realize that you actually can’t, and that Redick is clearly some sort of alien or machine, and you’re exhausted just hearing about his schedule. He’s not only one of the world’s best shooters and an All-Star level guard, but also the type of dad and husband that other dads and husbands hate because he makes them look so bad. He’s a better podcast host than many professional broadcasters. He’s so smart and so articulate and so genuinely curious about the world around him that he’s been able to become an unofficial spokesman for athletes, and he’s done all this while making sure that the job that gave him this platform and those expensive watches and fancy clothes continues to receive ample attention. So, what’s his secret? Also, where the hell does he get the time and energy? “My thing is, I have a standard for myself and that’s what I’m always trying to reach,” Redick says. “I certainly fall short frequently, but my standard is my standard. I want to reach it for myself, my family and the people I love. “I don’t do it for anyone else. I don’t give a fuck about proving doubters wrong or anything like that. I’m 32 years old, have my second kid on the way. [That second kid arrived

“My OFFSEASON is like GROUNDHOG DAY. EVERY DAY is exactly the same. I LOVE IT.” since this interview was conducted. Congrats, JJ!—Ed.] In terms of a public image—I guess I just literally don’t care at all about what other people think.” ONCE UPON A TIME everyone hated JJ Redick. Everyone hates the preppy white shooters from Duke, right? He also had a sweet jumper and a ceaseless motor, though, and a bit of an attitude, all of which allowed him to graduate as the ACC’s leading scorer in 2006 but also transformed him into the most loathed athlete in the country. Back then opposing fans would regularly lob verbal grenades at him. “There’s literally nothing you can say about me or any member of my family that I haven’t heard before,” Redick says. Much of the venom was unwarranted, though Redick wasn’t perfect either. “JJ could, and sometimes would, have beers the night before a

game in college,” says Redick’s friend and former Duke teammate Shavlik Randolph. “And yet he’d still be the best player on the court the next day.” Redick, by his own admission, entered the NBA brash and cocky. He and others say he was unprepared for the League, both physically and emotionally. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in June of 2006, weeks before being drafted by the Magic. He spent more time on the bench than the court in his first three professional seasons. On offense he was too easy to guard. On defense he was too easy to blow by. It took him until 2010 to find his place in the League— as a sharpshooting role player who, on defense, could use his IQ to make up for his lack of lateral quickness. In 2013 he signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Clippers to become one of the League’s top 2-guards as well as an irreplaceable


cog on a contending team. And, yes, Redick believes the Clippers are a contender. Every offseason he has a “thing” that he works on. “I’m not trying to add lots to my game,” Redick says. “Instead I’m always looking to become a better shooter, and add one more weapon.” Last year the “thing” was runners and floaters. This year it’s shooting off the dribble, especially going left off screens. All of it, of course, is mapped out beforehand. The day I speak with Redick, for example, is a Tuesday. Tuesdays in the offseason are catch-and-shoot


days. On Wednesday the focus will be dribble hand-offs. Saturday is all about spot-ups; he has to knock down exactly 342 shots before leaving the gym. “The way I look at it,” he says, “is if I can add one little thing to my game, and that thing gives us one or two additional wins over the course of the season—well, that means it was worth it.” Forget basketball for a moment, though. Sure, Redick is a career 41 percent three-point shooter and coming off a season in which he drilled a career-high, League-best 48 percent

of his shots from deep, even though he now draws so much attention that the majority of his looks come over outstretched arms. If you’re reading this magazine, then you’re already familiar with Redick’s picturesque stroke and basketball reinvention, so let’s move on to some things you might not know about JJ Redick. “He’s a really good rapper,” Randolph says. “We were at Duke around the time 8 Mile came out and so we’d have battles around the dorms all the time.” Talk to Redick and his friends and you’ll quickly learn that movies play a major role in his life. In college

Previous spread: Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images; This spread from left: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images; Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

“The way I LOOK AT it is if I can ADD ONE LITTLE THING to MY GAME, and that thing gives us ONE OR TWO ADDITIONAL WINS over the course of the season—well, that means it was WORTH IT.”

he earned the nickname Redick and Ebert. Quotes from Swingers, The Waterboy and Wedding Crashers routinely make their way into his conversations. One of the many childhood friends whom he’s still close with, Daniel Payne, made sure to quote the latter—“true love is the soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another”—while giving a toast at Redick’s engagement party. “But that was before he traded in the baggy sweats for tight dark jeans and other items from the Russell Westbrook Collection,” Payne says. “If I made a speech today I’d be sure to mention his new wardrobe.” Not surprisingly, Redick’s new love for fitted pants and exotic shirts has drawn the attention of those who have known him for years. “The jeans have definitely gotten skinnier and darker,” says Tom Hagan, another longtime friend. Adds Chris Collins, the current Northwestern head coach and former Duke assistant who recruited Redick to Durham, “It’s especially funny because he’s a kid who grew up in a log cabin in Roanoke, VA, and now he’s dressing like a model.” For a moment, though, let’s use the new and improved wardrobe as a metaphor, one that perfectly sums up who JJ Redick is and how he’s managed to morph from borderline NBA player into Championship-team-levelstarter, from despised college kid into the NBA’s equivalent of Prom King. Think of it like this: When Yahoo! reporting wizard Adrian Wojnarowski was looking for an NBA player to host a podcast on his new network/ website, The Vertical, Redick was the one he tabbed. When Bill Simmons wanted an NBA player to come on his new HBO show and talk about Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors, it was Redick who garnered the invite. It’s not just highpowered media members, either. Redick’s Twitter mentions are filled with messages from former antagonists confessing that their former hatred has given way to love. And really, who can blame them? The tabloids are littered with examples of individuals who’ve sold their souls in pursuit of riches. Redick, on the other hand, is the rare L.A.-based famous person who’s managed to successfully toe that ever-so-thin line. Think of his clothes: They might have changed over the past halfdecade as both his fame and bank account have grown. But the core of the man wearing them, well, he’s still the movie-quoting, book-reading, hard-working, fun-loving person who goes to bachelor parties with childhood friends and perks up when asked about subjects like parenting and a college Anthropology class. Of course, none of this fawning matters to Redick. He doesn’t care what we think about him. Men worthy of such praise rarely do. S

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 51


Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images


Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

After signing a max contract in Memphis this summer, CHANDLER PARSONS is determined to prove he’s fully healthy and worth the big investment for a Grizzlies team that’s ready to transition from sleeping giant to legitimate contender. BY F R ANK LYN CALLE



The clock strikes a quarter to 7 p.m. local time when he emerges from his very first team meal as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. With training camp kicking off tomorrow morning, Chandler Parsons has a lot on his mind—basketball and beyond. “You know, trying to paint walls, change the floors, furnish it all,” says Parsons, who is heading into camp while staying at a downtown hotel for another two weeks as he puts the final touches on his soon-to-be suburban home. “It’s a whole process. On top of dealing with that, there’s finishing rehab, team meetings and film. It’s a lot and it gets stressful. But I got good people on it.” Despite having only arrived in Memphis a little over a week before we speak, the vibes Parsons says he’s felt in his short time in town have been enough to give him a much-needed positive outlook after spending his summer in Los Angeles recovering from seasonending surgery for a second consecutive year. “It’s an exciting time,” he says. “I think change is always good. It’s a fresh start. I’ve been here 10 days total and you can just tell these fans are so passionate. They’re so welcoming. They’re legitimately the nicest people I’ve ever met. They’re so excited about this season— there’s excitement everywhere you go downtown.” Parsons experienced his share of highs and lows through his first five seasons in the NBA. Selected by the Houston Rockets with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft, the 6-10 small forward came into the League with a high level of uncertainty surrounding his future. Not only because the odds of a second-rounder sticking around and making a career in the NBA weren’t on his side, but also

because the NBA lockout meant no actual basketball was being played. Fresh off an SEC Player of the Year season when he led the Florida Gators to the Elite Eight in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the Casselberry, FL, native opted to begin his professional career in France while the NBA players’ union and owners worked on a new CBA. It was a short stint in which he participated in just three games and averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. But even after the NBPA and the League reached an agreement in late November and training camp started on December 9, Parsons was still waiting to sign a contract—because the Rockets were exploring free-agency options and also because FIBA needed to provide clearance after his time in the French league. Nine days into training camp, a deal materialized that finally allowed Parsons to join the team at practice. In retrospect, the lockout, and the rushed free-agency period that came of it, was a blessing in disguise, at least according to Grizzlies associate head coach JB Bickerstaff, who at the time was an assistant with the Rockets. “There were trades that were

supposed to happen [and] there were free-agent signings that we were going to try to make,” recalls Bickerstaff. “It ended up working out where he did come back [from France] and we didn’t sign the free agents. And so he was thrown into the fire. And in the fire, he stole minutes and then stole the job, basically.” A second-round pick who arrived late to camp, Parsons leapt into the starting lineup by the seventh game of his rookie season. He hasn’t looked back since. As a rookie, Parsons proved he could score in the open floor, pull up from distance, attack off the dribble and share the ball effectively—a prototype wing of modern day hoops, if you will—and it earned him NBA

“These FANS are so PASSIONATE. They’re so WELCOMING. They’re legitimately the NICEST people I’ve EVER met.”

All-Rookie Second-Team honors. By the following year, he was averaging over 15 points and 5 rebounds a night. He upped his numbers to 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists by his third season. “They took me with their third pick—they took Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejunas in the first round,” recalls Parsons of that Rockets’ rookie class. “But coach [Kevin] McHale just believed in me enough to give me that opportunity and not send me down to the D-League. To then basically starting me after the team got off to a slow start—I think it was a huge step for me, knowing I belonged and knowing he believed in me. I’ve been a starter ever since.” While his talent and skill set have certainly played a huge role, there’s a lot to be said about Parsons’ competitiveness and confidence, both of which Bickerstaff experienced first hand when the two met in the spring of 2011. “The first interaction I had with him was in a draft workout in Minnesota,” says Bickerstaff, who was working as an assistant coach for the Timberwolves before moving to the Rockets’ bench that summer. “In the workout, there was another player that played the same position as Chandler and that was supposed to be ranked higher than him. Chandler came up to me—he didn’t actually know me from anyone—and asked



well as from behind the arc (41.4 percent). “After going through that grind, working extremely hard to get back to being an even better basketball player than I was before—[the torn meniscus] was obviously devastating.” And then there was also the fact that he had the option to become an unrestricted free agent this past summer for the first time in his career. “So then it was—is it career ending? Is it not career ending? And is this going to affect my

contract this summer?” That’s what was going through his head this spring, he says. “So just having to deal with that and letting the team down and not being part of the Playoffs—worrying about the contract, worrying if I could ever be the same player again—all of that hit me at the same time. “I think going through these struggles have made me appreciate the grind more,” he continues. “It has made me appreciate the work more and it’s going to make me appreciate this year because of all

“I think going through these STRUGGLES have made me appreciate the GRIND more. It’s going to make me APPRECIATE the WORK more and it’s going to make me appreciate this YEAR.”

the time and dedication I put into working my way back.” In the end, the unfortunate events of the past two seasons didn’t seem to have much of an effect on his value and interest this summer when he opted out and became a free agent—evident in the four-year max-deal contract he ultimately received from the Grizzlies (an offer the Portland Trail Blazers reportedly also put on the table). In Memphis, he joins a veteran core group made up of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, and he strengthens a Grizzlies team that’s already known as one of the most disciplined in the League. “I think he’s a perfect complement to the core of this team,” says Bickerstaff. “You first have to look at the job those guys have done. They have a long track record of success. There’s a need for the skill set that Chandler has because Chandler doesn’t have to dominate the ball to be effective. And I think that’s what this team is—a bunch of unselfish superstars. And Chandler fits in that mold. He’s a guy that can bolster without interfering or stepping on toes because naturally that is not his game.” CP’s against-the-odds success story has translated into a plethora of off-the-court opportunities for the swingman, who will turn 28 on the eve of the 2016 season opener. He’s become known as one of the best-dressed players in the League, and brands have taken notice. In 2014, he partnered with Stance to create his own signature line of socks. “I think you can rock whatever you want to rock as long as you’re confident,” says Chandler of his fashion mantra. “I’m very hands-on when it comes to pressing the buttons for the socks line. I was very involved in the process, emailing back and forth with the guys, doing different designs and colorways for Stance. It’s just something I enjoy. It’s fun and just another hobby of mine.” Heading into training camp, Parsons is already back on the hardwood, running and taking jumpers, although he hasn’t been cleared to play 5-on-5 yet. And while he aims to be ready to go by opening night, he isn’t rushing it. He understands why he’s in Memphis and the long-term plans of the franchise. “Basically, what it came down to—me being a priority for them and basically [new head coach David] Fizdale explaining how he’s used the wings that he’s had, like Joe Johnson in Atlanta and LeBron and D-Wade in Miami. He sees me in a similar-type role as those guys, which is obviously flattering. I’m ready for that challenge.” S

Left: Stance socks; Previous and right: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

me to put the matchup so that he could go up against this other player that was supposedly a better player than him, so that everyone that was watching the workout could see that he was better than him. And Chandler, in the workout, proved to be better.” Parsons became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014, and the Rockets ultimately decided not to match an offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks. But his two years in Texas would be riddled with unfortunate circumstances. His first season was cut short after he suffered a microfracture injury in his right knee in early April. He missed the rest of the regular season, and though he tried to suit up in the Playoffs, it turned out he’d need an arthroscopic surgery to address the cartilage injury and then a long rehab process. As if that wasn’t enough, last season was cut short once again, this time in March due to season-ending surgery to address a torn meniscus in the same knee. “Going through a nine-month rehab process where I learned how to walk again after the microfracture to then playing the best I’ve ever played in my career for three months to now having to miss the Playoffs again for the second year was probably the toughest thing I ever had to go through as a player,” recalls Parsons, who last year produced career-highs in overall field goal percentage (49.2 percent) as


The unique genius of RAJON RONDO hasn’t always made for perfect fits with his teammates or perfect relationships with his coaches. But he’s confident that a union with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler means he can help the Bulls win right away. BY V I NC ENT G O O D WI L L


“I can’t turn it off.” Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo’s engine is always running hot. His brain is always racing, processing, assessing. He’s accepted that it’s a gift and a curse. “It’s hard to turn it off—everything you gotta deal with,” he says. “I’m just wired that way. I can’t not be ahead of the curve.” Rondo is the curve. Think Rosie Perez in White Men Can’t Jump, rattling off more foods that start with the letter Q than any other human knew existed. Rondo’s mind holds more than the minds of his peers, his mind reasons quicker than the minds of his superiors. And thus, he’s perceived as an NBA enigma. The straight-A student who doesn’t get straight As because he’s sleeping in class, bored out of his mind of the monotony, so craving a challenge that he becomes one himself. That was Rondo. In high school, he used to look so unenthused with advanced math that his teacher actually thought he was cheating. “I was looking at his tests and these long, drawn-out problems that only me and people in my department can do with no work. I said, Yo, he’s cheating off somebody,” Doug Bibby recalls. So next time around, Bibby gave Rondo a different test than the 29 other students in his class. The result was the same. “Dude gave me the test back, no work with just answers. And guess what? Every problem was right. The kid is just brilliant.” Bibby, first cousin of former NBA player Mike Bibby, was also Rondo’s basketball coach at Louisville Eastern High in Kentucky. The two clashed, but Bibby eventually became Rondo’s biggest advocate and mentor—his big brother, so to speak. “He became my assistant coach. We were similar. From the classroom

to the basketball court [to] the perspective he looked at the game. I saw that at an early age,” Bibby says. “You have to let him be himself.” Muzzled and suppressed after being traded to Dallas, then hidden among the constant instability in Sacramento, Rondo knows he’s been somewhat forgotten by the general public. He seems more amused than bemused by it. “I set individual goals that I accomplished last year and I was in Sacramento,” Rondo says. “If I was on TV and I was in the East, I’m pretty sure leading the League in assists wouldn’t be swept under the rug so much.” Only the drama gets mentioned when talking about the Kings, and it can affect even the most decorated of guys. “I wouldn’t say it was chaos, but the media portrayed it as chaos,” Rondo says. “We had ups and downs, we went through certain situations. Publicly talking about firing our coach, didn’t fire our coach. It was a lot of distractions versus what we were able to do as a team.” The list of players who’ve led the League in assists at least three times in this millennium all have tickets punched for the Hall: Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Chris Paul. And Rondo. Three years ago, you couldn’t have a conversation about the best point guards in the NBA and not have Rondo’s name on the tip of your tongue. There was no better big-game player at his position, no more feared competitor in a winnertake-all environment. Then, only Paul’s mastery could touch Rondo’s wizardry. In 2016, how far do you have to go before mentioning Rondo? His answer says little but speaks volumes: “I’m not fueled by that. I just want to be the best.”

“I was able to QUARTERBACK with so many future HALL OF FAMERS. I learned how to keep guys HAPPY.” Rondo’s physical gifts are undeniable. His long arms can leave those foolish enough to try grasping for air—go find the Vine of Rondo toying with Trey Burke. But the narrative on Rondo changed from being the “difficult but worth it” type to “problem child” seemingly overnight, and he’s self-aware enough to know exactly where it comes from. Even if you stumble through your words trying to find the right way to phrase the question about his reputation, Rondo sees mercy and helps you out. “We can say it: Rick Carlisle,” he says bluntly. “It was a learning process in itself.” It didn’t take being traded from Boston to Dallas for Rondo to appreciate a coach not being threatened by him, but it certainly highlighted the fact that he needs freedom, and that genius is not always embraced. “Rick ran things differently,”

Rondo says. In Boston, “I could call a play on one side of the floor and flip it on the opposite side to confuse the defense. In the beginning [in Dallas] I just had to bite my tongue with how things were run because they won there and I won [before]. “The incident that everybody blew up, Rick and I were on different pages on that particular day.” The two had disagreements in the Playoffs a couple years back, a situation both parties should find regrettable. But the reputation has followed only Rondo. Has it affected him negatively? “Absolutely.” THE NEW POINT guard for the Chicago Bulls looks around at his surroundings, his third team in three years, hoping he’s found a place that will accept his genius the way



Previous: Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images; This page: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

“When you can THINK multiple STEPS ahead, sometimes that SCARES PEOPLE. I think he has a GIFT and he uses it well. That’s why he’s one of the BEST at what he does.” —KIDD

he himself has learned to over the years—with patience, not frustration. “Doc [Rivers] would tell me not to get bored with the process. Things would be monotonous going over the same thing over and over again,” he says. “At times I got frustrated early in my career but over time I grew to understand everybody has their own learning curve and everybody learns differently.” Wide-eyed rookie Denzel Valentine marvels when Rondo tells him he can’t watch basketball just for the sake of entertainment value, as his mind won’t stop him from scouting and taking notes of opposing players’ tendencies, even if they’re not on the upcoming schedule. It takes time to understand the brilliance of Rondo. If the Bulls exceed the .500 ball most analysts see for them in 2016-17, it’ll be because Rondo manipulates seemingly ill-fitting chess pieces to his advantage. It’ll be because Rondo figures out a way to make the grouping of himself, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade (aka the “Three Alphas”) mask some roster ills and coaching inexperience. “I was able to quarterback with so many future Hall of Famers. I learned how to keep guys happy,” Rondo says, referring to his days in Boston. “I had to laugh about it—myself, Jimmy and D-Wade ‘not getting along.’ I’ve seen it first-hand with the Big Three. Three guys with different backgrounds and they were able to come together.” He kept Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen lathered by counting touches and shots in his head, and he’ll have to do that with Wade and Butler to ensure things work as harmonious as possible. Before signing with the Bulls, Rondo watched film with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg for hours on end, the two bonding over Rondo’s intellect, chemistry developing over Rondo’s immediate grasp of a complicated offense. “A lot of things were said about Fred, a lot of things were said about me,” Rondo says. “It’s definitely been refreshing to come in a situation and not be judged. You get a great fresh start.” Listening to Rondo rattle off the names of former teammates like Boogie Cousins and Monta Ellis, it’s clear he gravitates to players whose passion can be misunderstood, whose intentions can be misinterpreted. “It’s how the perception is. You can’t judge a guy, seeing him 82 games,” Rondo says, perhaps transitioning from describing them to describing himself. “He might be fiery some games and he’s not a yes man [who does] everything he’s told to do and not know what’s going on. Explain it to me, let me understand why we’re doing certain situations. I’m not going out there and doing it for no reason. It has to make sense.” And of his new star teammate Butler, Rondo says, “I wanted to play with guys who competed, and Jimmy was at the top of the list. Jimmy’s not afraid to punch a guy in the mouth, figuratively speaking.” RONDO WALKS through the United Center after a morning shootaround, hoping to get some extra shots up in his new home. But a curtain blocks off the court. He turns and asks, “They’re supposed to be gone by now, right?” Inside, a fellow genius is at work, a man who was gifted and cursed in the same way as Rondo. Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has his team’s shootaround running a little longer than expected.

The two men later nod and exchange pleasantries as members of an exclusive kind of brotherhood. “It can be hard—you’re a competitor and you’re trying to win,” Kidd says a few moments after, looking in Rondo’s direction. “When you can think multiple steps ahead, sometimes that scares people. I think he has a gift and he uses it well. That’s why he’s one of the best at what he does.” Rondo’s clairvoyance is on display a few hours later in his first preseason game in a Bulls uniform. His dart-like passes often escape the fingertips of his teammates or, in some cases, miss the mark altogether. He isn’t dishing to where his teammates are or where they’re going—he’s throwing passes to where they should be, where they better be, and where, in time, they will be. He’s reprogramming them from past habits, one pass in the face at a time. His voice cuts through a building filled with nearly 20,000 people just as it does in one with 30. He’s the man who stops Bulls practice because “too many people are talking who shouldn’t

be”—a player who knows that while the Bulls were too quiet last season, it doesn’t mean he’ll allow it to be a free-for-all just because. “I feel like everything in life happens for a reason. Me being here now with those two guys, with all these young guys, which I was [once], that’s how life works.” Kidd, who overcame the nickname “Ason Kidd” (no J…) by sinking the fifth most three-pointers in NBA history, knows a little about dealing with a reputation and believes public perception of Rondo should change immediately. “We label everybody and labels tend to not be easily erased,” Kidd says. “The perception of ‘can’t shoot’ can follow you, ‘not coachable’ follows you. It’s the unfortunate thing. I think Rondo is one of the best at what he does. What always comes up: Is he coachable? He’s a basketball player and does what he does at a high level. He’s a champion. It shouldn’t be a question.” Until then, Rondo will be listing off those foods that begin with the letter Q, because the mind of a genius doesn’t have an off switch. “Quail, Quince, Quiche…” S

It’s been years since Linsanity took New York by storm, but JEREMY LIN is back. This time, he’s the starting point guard and leader of the young, new-look Brooklyn Nets. BY AB E SC HWAD R ON


S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 61

Jeremy Lin is standing on the corner of Kent and West Streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, waiting for his longtime friend and trainer Josh Fan to arrive. The two were supposed to roll together, he explains, but plans changed once the Nets kept Lin and his teammates for a mandatory orthotic insole fitting after this morning’s workout. It’s a drizzly Monday afternoon in September, and Lin is wearing

er East Side apartment. He was, before what ultimately became one of the most memorable individual stretches of basketball in the history of the NBA, an anonymous New Yorker. The night before his “Linsanity” phenomenon began, Lin famously slept on Knicks teammate Landry Fields’ sofa. What unfolded thereafter, for the last two months of the 2011-12 season, established him not only as a full-time pro, but as one of the most popular basketball players on the planet. “I’m definitely glad to be back,” says the 28-year-old, who after stops with the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets from 2012 to 2016, signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Nets this summer. “I obviously have a special connection with New York fans because of everything we’ve been through, so to be back here playing in front of them again me, I wish it happened earlier.” During our faux bank heist in Brooklyn, Lin immediately takes charge. He’s responsible for solving most of the puzzles to unlock each new clue and he instinctively directs everyone else to pick up items we’ll need along the way. It’s corny as hell to say, but he really is point guard-ing the shit out of this. When we emerge victorious with 26 minutes to spare, Lin admits that he’s done this before. In fact, it’s his eighth or ninth time “escaping the room,” and he shrugs once we get back outside to daylight— this wasn’t as challenging as the versions he played in Charlotte and Los Angeles. Then again, dude went to Harvard. J-Lin’s “regular guy” vibe is disarming, and yet there are brief moments when his status as an international superstar smack you dead in the face. As we casually talk hoops on the walk back to his car after wrapping the interview portion of our shoot, for example, Lin points out that it’s kinda hard for big men to look cool in highlights, because nine times out of 10, Stephen Curry breaking a defender’s ankles and raining a three is more entertaining to watch than LeBron James muscling in 2 points in the post. It’s not an earthshattering observation for a person to make until you consider the two players being compared are among just a small handful whose global following eclipses that of the person who made it. But this story isn’t about Linsanity. Because that story’s already been written many times over. And, if you’re reading this magazine, you already know what happened. The night it all started with Lin dropping 25 on Deron Williams and the Nets at MSG. The 38 and 7 he put up against Kobe and the

Lakers less than a week later. The game-winning three on Valentine’s Day in Toronto. The memories won’t soon fade. Walk the streets of New York City and you’ll still occasionally see his No. 17 Knicks jersey every so often. But the next chapter for Jeremy Lin will play out across town, where Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson is handing him the keys. (Lin says Atkinson, who mentored him as a Knicks assistant during the Linsanity season, is “the only reason why I really considered the Nets in the first place.”) This year, on this team, Lin comes in as the starting point guard, not just some flash in the pan. With all due respect to former All-Star center Brook Lopez—whom Lin first met a decade ago on a serendipitous midnight visit to an IHOP during a high school tournament in California—it’s Lin who will be looked at as the face of the franchise, from the inside and out. And he’s definitely ready for the challenge. “To have this role, I’m so excited I can’t even really explain just how happy I am,” says Lin. “There’s days where after we work out or play pickup or whatever, I’m just like, Man, it feels natural. I’m a leader. I’m a starting point guard. I run the show—and that’s something I’ve done my whole life on the court. So the last few years playing in a backup position, to me, that’s not who I was created to be as a player, that’s not natural. I feel like I wanna be the guy in the front. I wanna be the guy leading the charge, and I feel that here. “Walking around Brooklyn, the vibe that I get is that they haven’t had a product that the people have been proud of,” he continues, noting the team’s 21-61 record last season. “I can tell there’s that disappointment from the past. No disrespect or no offense to anybody else who was here before, but that’s just the vibe that I get. So for me it’s just another challenge: How can we turn this thing around?” Perhaps due to all the same lazy stereotypes that have been used to doubt Lin at every other stop throughout his career, it’s still hard for some to picture him in the role of the veteran leader. Time to get over it. The reality is, almost all of his new Nets teammates really do look up to him, and almost all for different reasons. Like 21-year-old Nets rookie Isaiah Whitehead, who remembers watching every game of Linsanity as a sophomore at Lincoln HS in Brooklyn: “I was right in front of my TV watching every one.” Or Sean Kilpatrick, another New York-bred guard, who looks at Lin as a model of D-League-to-NBA-starter suc-

Left: Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE via Getty Images


adidas sweats from head to toe, with a matching snapback that’s keeping his man bun, or braids, or whatever’s under there hidden from view. In a few minutes, we’ll descend into a dimly lit, dungeon-esque basement to do one of those trendy new “escape the room” adventure games. You know, where you have an hour to collect clues and solve riddles as a team in order to, well, escape the room. (In our case, pulling off a Mission Impossible-themed bank robbery before the fictional cops catch us committing the heist.) While we wait, we bullshit about the Nets’ fancy new practice facility in Sunset Park, about how Lin scored his new apartment near the Barclays Center after refreshing Zillow for days on end, and about the upgrades he still needs to make to his car, including tinting the windows and replacing the rims. As a jackhammer pounds away at a construction site across the street, Fan finally appears, panting. Turns out, he took an Uber to Kent Avenue, not Kent Street, and had to run the last three-quarters of a mile here, which draws a laugh from Lin. The last time he played professional basketball for a team in New York, Lin was crashing on his brother’s couch in a cramped Low-

Tom Medvedich

cess. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Kilpatrick says. “He’s always talking to me about staying hungry.” Even Greivis Vasquez, who will be pushing Lin for that starting PG spot every day in practice, respects Lin for being “a fighter” who fears nothing on the court. “We want him to lead,” says GV, “and we want to win games with him.” Meanwhile, Lopez is…actually, Lopez is just envious that Lin is being featured in a special edition of Marvel’s Totally Awesome Hulk comic book. “I was so jealous when I saw that,” Lopez laments. “He didn’t even tell me about it. Apparently it’s no big deal to him. I had to read about it on my comic book sites.” Despite never having been an All-Star, Lin can sell comic books as a superhero thanks to his universal appeal. A week after our photo shoot in Brooklyn, at Nets Media Day, Lin is predictably swarmed by reporters despite playing on a team that beyond his presence is of lukewarm (at best) interest to the rest of the world. And, not unlike his teammates, Lin says his fans are as diverse as they are loyal. “My story is so unique, and so there are people that always support different parts of my story. It might be that I’m Asian, or it might be that I went to Harvard, or it might be that I grew up in an immigrant family or the underdog story or the Ivy League,” he says. “For me it’s just something I want to be grateful for every day. I used to take my fans more for granted, and now I’m really thankful for them and I think I do a better job of showing that.” On the court, Lin insists he’s shored up a lot of the parts of his game that were suspect during his first go-round under the bright lights of New York, including his jumper, his ability to go left and his defense. Last season in Charlotte he averaged 11.7 points, 3 assists and a career-high 3.2 rebounds per game in a Sixth Man role for a Hornets team that won 48 games and made the postseason. With increased minutes, expect to see his numbers jump across the board—a lot. Lin, though, says he’s matured as a person as much as he has as a player. “Probably spiritually and mentally more than anything. I think when everything first happened I was a little scared and jaded, just because a lot of friendships and relationships and the way things worked out, I felt like maybe people betrayed me. I felt that sense of like, I don’t know if I can trust people,” Lin says. “Having gone through the last four years, I’m

“I’m not so CONCERNED WITH what everyone else has to SAY about me anymore, whether it’s REPORTERS or OPPONENTS or ANYBODY, really.”

really in a different place. I’m not so concerned with what everyone else has to say about me anymore, whether it’s reporters or opponents or anybody, really.” The Nets surely don’t have championship expectations in 2016-17. Competing for a playoff spot in a suddenly crowded Eastern Conference is probably a stretch, too. But Jeremy Lin is at long last comfortably stable, both in spirit and in his situation. “I have a lot more fun through each day,” he says. “I smile a lot more.” S


Though often (and understandably) overshadowed by his MVP brother, SETH CURRY has quietly carved out a place for himself in the NBA. With a freshly inked two-year contract in Dallas, it’s time to see what he can really do. BY LEO SEPKOWITZ


Tom Pennington/Getty Images


On April 11, Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison rested for the Kings, and Seth Curry started at point guard. Curry had impressed in recent games, but did so at shooting guard, and had hardly played at all before that. You wouldn’t know any of this from watching that night’s tape, though—Curry dropped 20 points and 15 dimes in 38 minutes, as the Kings picked up a road W. That game—and a handful of others late last season, when few were watching—transformed Curry’s career. “I knew I had it in me,” he says of his sizzling stretch. “During the year, I wasn’t playing consistently, but when I got in, I played well. I’d play five minutes here, six minutes here, 12 minutes—but I felt like I was effective, that I could help the team out.” In July, Curry, 26, parlayed a nice run into a two-year deal with the Mavericks for $6 million. It is not a sexy contract (in a summer full of them), but it is two guaranteed years with one of the League’s steadiest franchises. That’s a big deal for Curry, who has spent the past three seasons bouncing between the East and West, the majors and minors. All the while, of course, his career has existed in the minds of many as a sort of footnote to that of his brother, Stephen. We have viewed Seth’s game with our Steph Goggles on: Wow! Sweet play! He almost looked like his brother there! Maybe that’s inescapable at this point. Or maybe it’ll change when Seth breaks through. “I showed a lot at the end of last season with Sacramento—that I can play on the ball and make plays,” says Seth. Over seven games in April, playing both guard spots, he averaged 16.5 points, 5.5 dimes and 3 boards per. His sharp-shooting (3.3 threes at 49 percent) and his low turnover rate suggest

he can truly compete (and thrive) at the NBA level. “Obviously, people know me for my shooting. But [head coach Rick Carlisle] was talking about being versatile here. The good thing about this system is that he never really labels his guys point guards or shooting guards. He just plays guards who can do a lot of different things.” A combo guard himself, Curry makes for an easy fit with the Mavs, a team eternally starved for young talent. Dallas has a fairly crowded backcourt, as Deron Williams, JJ Barea, Devin Harris and Wesley Matthews will return this season. But Williams, Barea and Harris are all 32 or 33 years old, and none is a particularly good three-point shooter. Beyond some flashes from Justin Anderson’s rookie campaign, there is little depth behind Matthews on the wing. This is a dream scenario for an up-and-comer with some polished skills. Says Carlisle, “We have to get younger, and he’s the right age where we feel like he’s young enough to still take a quantum leap, and he’s experienced enough to help us now.” That sort of faith in Curry is new. Three years ago, he went undrafted out of Duke. Golden State signed him to play for its D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Memphis picked him up, then cut him. Cleveland picked him up, then sent him to the D-League’s Erie Bayhawks. Orlando picked him up, then waived him. Phoenix picked him up for 10 days to play a total of eight minutes. “Every time I was let go, I was disappointed because I felt like I never got on the floor to show what I could do,” Curry says. “It’s tough coming into a team that you weren’t with in training camp, trying to establish yourself on a 10-day contract situation when there’s a lot of odds

“Whether you’re GETTING MINUTES or not, you gotta GO IN and DO YOUR JOB and play FOR THE FANS.” against you. I don’t blame them for not giving me those chances, but I felt like I deserved them.” Even last year, on a guaranteed (minimum) deal in Sacramento, Curry dealt with major problems. DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl feuded in November. The Kings nearly fired Karl midseason, then didn’t—a non-move that Caron Butler called “deflating.” Rondo labeled it the most tense locker room he’d ever seen. The team won just 33 games. On July 3, Sacramento effectively cut Curry to make room for Matt Barnes. But Curry just kept his head up, focusing on the good stuff. “It was a great learning experience,” he says of his time in Sacramento. “I liked everybody in the locker room as a person—there were just some headlines and some problems. But that taught me a lot about profes-

sionalism. Being around Caron was huge. Even at this point in his career, he’s still in the gym with me early in the morning, getting his work in, putting the time in, staying positive. Whether you’re getting minutes or not, you gotta go in and do your job and play for the fans.” That shouldn’t be difficult to do in Dallas, where Curry will finally find stability. “The past few years I’ve been in the League, I’ve really noticed how important that structure and direction is for a team,” Curry says. “Going to a place that’s already established, where I can just come in and get better and keep doing things the right way, it’s gonna make it a lot easier to win. I don’t want to take what I did last year and then take a step back. I want to move forward, grow from it and be a consistent NBA player.” S


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of ’96 studs like Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Abdur-Rahim, Antoine Walker and Jermaine O’Neal were certified talents, no doubt, but for myriad reasons, they remain largely in the shadows to this day, at least compared to their cohorts. “In some ways,” Shareef says now, “you try to keep up with those guys and the success that those guys had. I’ve always believed that really good players are either competing against themselves, pushing themselves to different limits, or they’re competing against really good players. That collection of guys is who I battled. I wanted to keep up with them or surpass them.” Unfortunately for Abdur-Rahim, he only tasted the Playoffs twice, both toward the end of his career when he played with Sacramento. “I’m at peace with my career, the time I had playing basketball,” says Shareef, who for the first seven seasons of his career averaged a Millsap-esque 20, 8 and 3. “If anything, I would have liked to have played on some better teams, teams that were further along. Had that happened, then maybe that wouldn’t be the sentiment.” But just when you think the levelheaded Abdur-Rahim will finally let off some steam, he adds, “but I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to play at the level I did. I was an All-Star. I played with some really good people. I played with some really good coaches. I cherish all of that.” Damn, almost forgot who we were talking to for a second. “I don’t know if young people understand the hard work and the focus and the determination [it takes to succeed],” Bozeman says. “KG has it. Shareef didn’t have the outward demonstration [of Kevin Garnett], but he was just like that.” Abdur-Rahim, a father of two, has been so busy post-retirement that he simply hasn’t had the time to worry much about legacies. After hanging it up in ’08 with Sacramento, Shareef almost immediately stepped into the role of Kings assistant coach. A shock to no one, the heady Reef (“education is a priority to me,” he says) shot up the Kings’ hierarchy, becoming the assistant general manager and then the director of player personnel. “It kind of just happened,” Reef says. “The people that were running the Kings when I retired, they asked

“I was an All-Star. I played with some really good people. I played with some really good coaches. I cherish all of t hat.”

me to stay on to coach some younger players. I did that for a while and that kind of evolved into me joining the front office. It was all a good experience. I was around some good people—[GM] Geoff Petrie, [vice president] Wayne Cooper, [assistant coach] Pete Carril. I was around a lot of smart basketball people.” After some personnel changes and conflicting views on the direction of the team, Abdur-Rahim parted ways from the organization two years ago. “There are a lot of new people there with the ownership and management,” Abdur-Rahim says of the current state of the franchise. “A lot of time when that happens, you don’t have the same connections. But I pull for them and I want the Kings to do well.” Again, no time to harp on the negative—Reef was recently named the NBA’s Associate VP of Basketball Operations. “One thing about sports is that it gives you an appetite for achievement,” he says. “It allows me to still have goals, still learn and still achieve.” Folks in Atlanta, where AbdurRahim played for three seasons, have known about the man’s business acumen for some time now. For years, locals passed a building in East Point with the name “Reef House” out front. With little fanfare, the organization quietly helped at-risk teenagers with their homework and life-building skills. Abdur-Rahim and his team’s mission remains set on bettering the prospects for Atlanta’s youth, only now it’s evolved into an overall enrichment program called Future Foundation. “I’m a product of people spending time with me,” Reef says. “It just makes sense to do the same. I feel very fortunate to have achieved the things that I have achieved. I had a platform to be able to [return the favor]. I’m thankful— in my neighborhood we’ve been able to establish the Future Foundation and different programs to try to help young people and be a resource for them to reach their goals.” Adds Bozeman, “None of this surprises me. He’s always had that focus.” By the time Coach hangs up the phone, he’s exhausted every glowing word in the English language to describe Shareef. But we totally get it—Bozeman wants to remind the world that Shareef Abdur-Rahim was one helluva basketball player. Three minutes after the call, though, Bozeman is calling back. As fate would have it, in all the discussion about a player the basketball world has seemingly pushed to the back of its memory, Coach himself forgets something. “I just want to say that he was the consummate studentathlete and pro,” he adds. Honestly, the second call was so quick that we didn’t even bother putting on the recorder. Didn’t need to. We wouldn’t dare forget. Neither should you. S

Previous spread, from left: Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images; Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images; This spread: Scott Cunningham /NBAE/Getty Images

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap comes in at a respectable No. 29 on the #SLAMTop50 players list for this NBA season. If there’s a more standup guy who can consistently knock down big buckets, we don’t know him. But for all the 18 and 8 nights he has, Millsap just isn’t that sexy to mainstream fans. He’s never had crazy outbursts on IG. He doesn’t have wacky on-court mannerisms. He rocks the calmest goatee in the game. In 20 years, when your kids are talking about the NBA’s best players of the past few decades, Millsap’s name may not come up. It won’t be his fault, of course; it’ll be a flawed system’s. The flashy guys get the glory. But players as gifted as Paul Millsap should not suffer the same fate as Netflix passwords and old girlfriends’ phone numbers. The same goes for another forward, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who quietly displayed an incredibly underrated (but unbelievably steady) game in the early ’00s for those same Hawks, and three other teams. A high school phenom back at Atlanta-area Wheeler HS, Shareef was named Georgia’s Mr. Basketball in ’94 and ’95. The do-everything Abdur-Rahim went on to the University of California and didn’t miss a beat. The first freshman to ever be named Pac-10 Player of the Year, Shareef averaged over 21 points and 8 rebounds a game. Though Abdur-Rahim’s lone collegiate season ended with a disappointing first-round loss in the NCAA Tourney, he went on to have a stellar NBA career that spanned 13 years, leaving a permanent mark on those closest to him. Like Todd Bozeman. How could he forget Reef? The two are intertwined in Cal basketball lore. The star on Coach Bozeman’s last Golden Bears squad in ’96, Abdur-Rahim doesn’t hesitate to admit Bozeman was the main reason he chose to attend Cal over legendary ACC hoops institutions like Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Bozeman reciprocates the praise. “The presence that he had on the court and the focus stood out to me,” says Bozeman, who was an assistant at Cal from 1990-92 before becoming the head coach in ’93. “It was almost like he was the only kid out there.” Twenty-plus years later, their rela-

tionship is still solid. Coach recalled a moment not too long ago when Benji, a 30 for 30 special on Ben Wilson, the Chicago hoops icon who was tragically murdered in 1984, aired on ESPN. “I texted Reef,” he remembers. “I was sitting there watching—I had never seen [Wilson] play. I said, ‘Man, he looks like you, Reef!’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m sitting here with my son watching this right now.’ When you watch that thing, that’s Reef! I’m telling you. That’s what he looked like. The straight-up running, graceful and could really score.” Reef, a devout Muslim, was always focused. Instead of getting sidetracked with things off the court, he kept his head down and his field-goal percentage up (a Pac-10 fifth-best 51.8 percent). “Reef would work and work and work,” says Bozeman. “He would just put that time in. One of the stories that epitomizes that work—it probably has something to do with his religion, too—was when we were playing a game against USC or Washington. It was in the middle of Ramadan. He wouldn’t drink water. He wouldn’t do nothin’. Every timeout, I’d go, ‘Reef, you good?’ He’d say, ‘I’m good, Boze, I’m good.’ His mom was sitting behind the bench and she kept saying, ‘Tell Reef it’s OK if he drinks water.’ I said, ‘Reef, your mom said you could drink water.’ He said, ‘I’m good, Boze, I’m good.’ He must have had 30 and 15 [that game]. It was inspirational.” A smooth, hard-working forward for the Grizzlies, Hawks, Blazers and Kings, the 6-9, 225-pound AbdurRahim made the All-Rookie Team in ’97 and made his lone All-Star appearance in ’02. You know how Draymond Green goes 100 percent every night in the paint, the perimeter and at all points in between? That was Shareef way before Dray was out of diapers. “I definitely don’t think he gets the recognition he deserves,” admits Bozeman, head coach at Morgan State University since 2006. “He had serious numbers. You can compare his numbers to a lot of people and theirs don’t stack up.” We can’t say unequivocally what the reason is that more people don’t know about Abdur-Rahim’s 50-point game in ’01, or that his 15,028 career points are more than Alonzo Mourning’s and Kevin Johnson’s. But it likely has something to do with the fact he was drafted alongside Class





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Get familiar with the new fire STANCE socks you’ll see on-court during the 2016-17 NBA season.

WHEN STANCE TOOK OVER as the official on-court sock provider of the NBA before last season,

no one knew what to expect. But with a year in the books, reviews—from fans and most importantly, the players—have been overwhelmingly positive. Like, “I need ’bout four pair ASAP” positive. The combination of design and comfort have established the brand as the go-to sock choice for serious hoopers. So it comes as no surprise that Stance is ready to up their game this year, with a new slate of styles you’ll see when the NBA season kicks off. Last season, every team had several options: a team jerseyinspired edition and a team logo edition, plus standard solid colorways like the classic white and black base socks. But this season, in addition to those 60 unique styles, Stance has cooked up even more. Every team is getting new looks, thanks to eight brand-new striped styles across the League. Not only that, but a handful of teams are getting updated alternates, like stars and stripes for the Wizards, old-school pinstripes for the Magic, “Fear the Deer” joints for the Bucks and more. Most notably, the Knicks and Lakers have “NY” and “LA” above the heel on the backs of their new socks, all of which will be available in quarter and crew height, at, the NBA Store, Foot Locker and other retailers. As in the past, Stance will have some special editions for key moments in the ’16-17 season, too, including Hardwood Classics designs (shouts to the Toronto Huskies!) and even a Kevin Garnett retirement tribute sock. Now that’s real. —Abe Schwadron


From top: Stance socks; Courtesy of Under Armour

Two signature sneakers, two MVP seasons. Under Armour is banking on the CURRY 3 continuing the overwhelming success of Stephen Curry’s signature performance line. STEPHEN CURRY’S partnership with Under Armour has already produced some tough silhouettes. And for the third iteration of the two-time MVP’s signature shoe, Senior Sneaker Designer Kort Neumann and his team hit the lab to develop the best basketball sneaker they could. Influences for the 3 include Steph’s cars, home and family, but Neumann zeroed in on F-22 fighter jets as a main source of inspiration. “We were looking at that and how you can apply the dynamic beauty behind that plane to the shoe,” Neumann says. “In terms of style of the shoe, a majority of that came from the fighter air craft. We presented that to Steph and he was on board.” The sneaker features two new pieces of brand-new tech. UA’s adaptive Threadborne material on the 3’s upper is made of high-tension threads woven together, providing freedom of movement, along with support and breathability. It’s hot off the UA presses and will soon be making appearances across different categories. It took a while to figure out how to get, in Neumann’s words, “the best of both worlds, in terms of performance and aesthetics,” but UA believes they’ve found it. The versatility of the Threadborne is complemented by the other new feature of the 3: two carbon fiber wings on either side of the sneaker, pulled straight from the F-22s. “What those tail wings do is stabilize a plane,” Neumann says. “We took that concept and applied it to the shoe. It’s a stabilizing mechanism for your subtalar joint. What your subtalar joint does is stabilize your foot from left to right on an even surface. If you’re cutting really hard, your subtalar joint is involved in keeping you stable while you’re doing that movement.” The combination of Threadborne and the carbon fiber Meta-Wing tech got the Curry seal of approval. And don’t worry, Neumann promises fire colorways for the 3 are on the way. —Max Resetar

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

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Ignore the rumors. Ignore the criticism. Ignore the noise. There’s a reason Arizona commit DEANDRE AYTON has been ranked as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 for the last three years: So far, no one’s been able to stop the 7-foot beast.


ust a month after announcing his college decision live on SportsCenter, DeAndre Ayton sits back and thinks about his journey. Since his arrival to the United States from the Bahamas in 2011, he’s emerged as the top recruit in the Class of 2017—a title he’s held for the past three years. Leaving his mother and siblings behind at the time was extremely tough. But in the grand scheme of things, living in the States without his family hasn’t even been the toughest part of the process. As his game continued to blow up, so did his name. “The biggest challenge was blocking everybody out of my mind when I play,” Ayton says. “A lot of tweets go around saying, ‘He’s not eligible for college,’ stuff like that. I’ve had to overcome that. On the court, though, there’s no challenge, to be honest—other than just focusing. I adapted to it. I’ve heard a lot of criticism in my life, ever since I moved out here to the US, but that type of stuff doesn’t bother me. I use it as motivation.” In an age when misinformation and rumors spread easily (and quickly) through social media, high-profile recruits find themselves


having to cope with the constant drum of outside noise. And while it’s one of those “it comes with the territory” situations, Ayton seems to have embraced the chatter with ease. A 7-foot center armed with explosive athleticism and an insideoutside game that extends out to the perimeter, his skill set has drawn comparisons to the likes of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Last season, as a junior, he averaged 29.2 points, 16.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix while playing a national schedule against America’s top prep programs. Ayton’s road to becoming the country’s top prospect began in San Diego, where he enrolled at the Balboa School in 2011. He remained there until the summer of 2015, when he relocated to the Valley of the Sun to join Hillcrest. The different environments have provided the versatile big with some valuable life lessons. “Growing up in the Bahamas, I really learned how to appreciate things more when I moved out to Cali,” Ayton says. “Moving to Cali, the program really helped me to be humble. I was a very lowkey prospect. And moving to Arizona,


I’VE HEARD A LOT OF CRITICISM, BUT THAT TYPE OF STUFF DOESN’T BOTHER ME. I USE IT AS MOTIVATION.” I made it home.” Last year, his mother Andrea relocated to the US to join him in Phoenix. His siblings followed. Their arrival couldn’t have come at a more perfect time—the noise surrounding his recruitment is louder than ever. “My mom is my rock,” Ayton admits. “She is my shield. She keeps all my sharks away. I can go anywhere—she has to be with me. Everything goes through my mom.”

Of course, making Arizona his home turned out to be more than a high school decision. It’s where he plans to suit up for college, too, after giving the Wildcats a verbal commitment in September. His slated arrival in Tucson wasn’t just about choosing a top-ranked program within close proximity. Whittling his options down to Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky, he realized that only one of those coaches had yet to reach a level that the other two had, and he really wanted to change that. “The second unofficial visit, we went up to Arizona and I told my mom, You know? I really like this program,” Ayton says. “Coach Sean [Miller] has never gone to the Final Four, and I was really thinking about that. I really intend to help him get there—and then lead ’em to a National Championship. I told my mom, I just want to make history.” S

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CATCH THESE HANDS JAYLEN HANDS San Diego (CA) Foothills Christian 6-3, G JAYLEN HANDS had a pretty good summer, and there’s a decent chance you’ve already seen one of the highlights. This was June, when Hands was dominating the adidas Eurocamp in Italy. Running the break in a game against the Ukrainian U20 team, the 6-3, 170-pounder finished with a poster-perfect dunk over a 6-7 defender. “That might’ve been my best ever dunk in a game,” he says now. “One, because someone got it on video, and two, it was in a real game where it actually mattered.” Indeed, the Class of 2017 standout at Foothills Christian HS outside San Diego says it was only the second-best moment of his summer—the first came when he claimed MVP honors in leading Team Harden to the title at the adidas

Nations camp. It’s been that kind of run lately for Hands, who will look to wrap his high school career in similar fashion this winter before suiting up for UCLA next year. And as a future Bruin who prides himself on his versatility and explosiveness, it’s no surprise that former Westwood star Russell Westbrook is the guy whose game he most admires. If Hands’ game is very much in the present, his on-court fashion sense is bringing the old school back. “I like to wear short shorts when I play,” he says with a laugh. “Not short short, but short enough. I just feel more comfortable.” Between his game and his fearless fashion streak, we’re guessing the admiration between Hands and Westbrook will be mutual soon enough. —Ryan Jones

MOTIVATION JARRED VANDERBILT Houston (TX) Victory Prep 6-8, F JARRED VANDERBILT wants his spot back. After suffering a foot injury that sidelined him for the majority of the summer, the 6-8 big man from Houston is back on the court and motivated to climb back up the Class of 2017 rankings after sliding out of the top-10. “I definitely want to get back up there in that top-5, top-10 conversation,” he says. “Since my injury I fell out of the loop a little bit. I want to get back to 100 percent both mentally and physically and lead my team to victory and prepare for the next level.” Vanderbilt, who is getting ready for his senior season at Houston’s Victory Prep, grew up around the game—his father was an assistant at Prairie View A&M and all five of his older siblings hooped. A ball was put in his hands at a young age and backyard games at the Vanderbilt house helped mold him into the player he is today. “Pickup games used to be intense, but they don’t really play me no more,” he says. “It used to get to the point where we almost fought when it came down to the last bucket. That’s where a lot of my toughness came, playing with them every day. That’s pretty much where I learned to play.” The highly touted recruit has the likes of Arizona, Baylor, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas hoping for his services. Before he hits campus, Vanderbilt has visions of being a McDonald’s All-American and partaking in the Jordan Brand Classic. No matter where the game takes him, though, he’ll put family first. “Since a young age I realized that I can make a lot of money doing this one day and provide for my family,” he says. “That’s what drives me: That I’m so close to getting there and have the opportunity to give back to my family.” —Peter Walsh

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JALEK FELTON West Columbia (SC) Gray Collegiate 6-3, G THE EXACT specifics of the memory might be a little blurry, but Jalek Felton

Hands: Kelly Kline; Vanderbilt: Kelly Kline; Felton: Kelly Kline/Under Armour; Cooks: USA Basketball; Bamba: Chris Razoyk

remembers the most important part: He was there. “The only thing I remember is Carolina Blue—I don’t remember anything but Carolina Blue,” says Felton of attending the 2005 NCAA National Championship game in St. Louis as a 6-year-old. “I remember people going crazy and singing the [fight] song. That’s all I can remember.” Unfortunately, missing among the parts he can’t quite recall from that night is his uncle’s performance, former Tar Heel point guard and current NBA veteran Raymond Felton, who dropped 17 points and 7 assists (on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc) to help give the Tar Heels the national title in a 75-70 dub over Illinois. Ray’s gone on to a decade-plus career in the League, while Jalek has grown up and emerged as a five-star recruit and one of the top-25 national prospects in the Class of 2017, touted for his explosiveness and scoring prowess. When interest from college coaches began flowing, the 6-3 guard didn’t see the point in dragging things out. He committed to UNC as a sophomore. “People at UNC are predicting and really looking forward to me doing the same thing he [Raymond] did there or beyond what he did there,” says Jalek, referring to his uncle, whom he trains with during the summertime. “And I feel like I can live up to the standard. I’m taking on that challenge myself.” —Franklyn Calle

NO I.D. SIDNEY COOKS Kenosha (WI) St. Joseph 6-4, F

AS A THIRD grader, Sidney Cooks towered over her opponents. Her height advantage accelerated her game at a rate other parents weren’t buying. “My mom got me an ID showing my age,” Cooks says, thinking back. “Whenever someone would say something, we’d pull it up and show I’m a 5-10 8-year-old. Sorry, I’m in the right grade.” In hindsight, her rapid growth may be a slight exaggeration.

But only slight. “I know for sure by fifth grade, I was 5-10, 5-11,” the current HS senior clarifies. “Now I’m 6-4, 6-5.” Whatever the exact number, Cooks’ height put her closer to the basket and began her journey as not only a dominant forward but a skilled player at any spot on the floor. “I shoot the three when I need to,” she says. “That’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me to not be stuck in one place.” Last year, Cooks shot 56.9 percent from the arc and 65 percent overall. She averaged 23.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 3.7 blocks per game. She does everything for the St. Joseph Lancers, and soon she’ll do the same for a collegiate program. “My top five schools are the ones who had seen me in middle school,” she says. “It’s a loyalty thing for me.” On November 9 she’ll sign with a school that saw her game develop from the beginning. And she won’t need that ID card to prove her age anymore. −Habeeba Husain

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chool has been great. This year more than any other, I was eager to get back. My favorite class right now is Designing & Engineering. When I was younger, I used to think about engineering, but it kind of faded as my plate became full with basketball and all the other life obligations that go along with being a high schooler. But this class has triggered some memories and the learning experience has really been fun. My two group members, Brandon Randolph and Cole Berger, and me, we’re working to invent a prototype that improves a player’s jumpshot. We put a circular sensor around the rim and that tracks misses and it uses the data we collected to hit more shots. I can’t go too much deeper into that—we might be patenting something here! We’re still in the process of figuring out the program and the coding, but I think it’s something that will be awesome. I’ve also been updating a binder I put together over the summer with files on each school in my recruitment. Some might see me as being nerdy about it but this is the best way to go about it. This is one of the biggest decisions I’m going to make. If you saw how big this binder was, you’d be like, “Who are you?!” I’ve named it THE BLUEPRINT. The categories in the Excel spreadsheets under each school measure success in various majors, total university endowment, number of Fortune 500 CEOs, total enrollment, living alumni worldwide, percentage of alumni in management positions—things important to me for my business career that will hopefully extend beyond the basketball court. On the basketball side, I’ve looked at how many first-round picks each school has had over the past five years, how many were one-and-done, the number of NBA owners and managers that are alums, etc. A big part of the binder has information about compliance and I’ve added articles and case studies to it along the way. Every week there’s something to add.




Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

A decade or so ago, our new cover would’ve looked very different.







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Slam Magazine No 203 (Dec 2016)