By Drew Hammell
Back in the mid to late 90’s, while the Internet was still young and primitive, magazines were the main source for inside information and quality photography. While Sports Illustrated was the dominant print magazine for all sports genres, a new basketball-specific publication called SLAM was making a name for itself.
SLAM launched in 1994 and featured bold, brazen headlines with sections like “In Your Face,” “Slam A da Month,” “SLAMUps” and “PUNKS.”
“I had them completely covering my walls and ceiling of my room as a kid,” said menswear designer John Elliott. “Kicks On Court was like Hypebeast before Hypebeast. Really all you had back then was that, music videos and actual hooping in real life.”
Many sneakerheads collected the magazines, or at least can remember the first one that stuck out to them. “The first issue I really remember of SLAM was the one featuring Rafer Alston (December 1997). I never had a copy, but was lucky enough to read the piece bumming a copy from a friend on a bus ride home,” said Matt Halfhill, founder of NiceKicks.com.
There was plenty of history on those pages. And in general, most sneaker lovers discovered new releases and pricing through the monthly Kicks On Court section.
Current Vice President of Culture & Content at Tidal, Tony Gervino was the Editor in Chief at SLAM back when the magazine was gaining popularity. “Russ Bengtson and I were sneakerheads before eBay and reissues even existed – we intuitively understood the obsession our readers were experiencing, and began to add more pages. When SLAM began to really take off as a lifestyle brand, the sneaker companies were happy to send us the freshest samples for us to photograph – there was literally no competition,” said Gervino.
Sometimes, the Kicks On Court pages were fairly plain and simple, with just the sneakers displayed on white backgrounds. Other times, there was fake snow or grass. And other times, the shoes were placed on dinner plates with corn and roasted ham.
“While I’d like to say that we conceptualized all kinds of crazy photo backdrops as some sort of pretentious commentary on consumerism, or that we were on serious drugs (which we weren’t), we really did it because our creative director Don Morris was a self-taught, punk rock aficionado who had contempt for sports – and to a lesser extent, us – [and] we wanted to keep him interested,” joked Gervino.
For many, whatever background Gervino and Bengstson chose to use was just fine. Sneakerheads and collectors were primarily interested in what would be releasing next and when.
“That’s the section I would turn to first when I checked out Slam mags at the grocery store,” said Long Ly (@myshoelife on Instagram), a longtime sneaker collector with over 250 pairs.
“I still have those adidas Pro Models. The Pony’s can still be found at Ross, fifteen years later, haha. And man, I love those Paytons – I wore them as recently as a year or so ago. I’m so afraid to wear old shoes on court now,” laughed Ly.
NiceKicks.com editor Ian Stonebrook has similar sentiments. “SLAM Kicks On Court is right up there with NikeTalk and Eastbay about why I love what I love and that there’s a lane to do it professionally. As a kid, every time I’d go to the grocery store or the book store SLAM would be the first thing I’d pick up and I’d flip it open to Kicks On Court in the back. That was the first place you’d see a lot of models in detail pre-internet and definitely informed a lot of my buying decisions [or] how often I was gonna mow the lawn that summer.”
Kicks on Court consistently featured player exclusives, with names and numbers on the shoes. And there was a “Kicks off Court” section, with runners, cross trainers, sandals and other non-basketball shoes. There were all sorts of quirky headlines. There were major brands like Nike, adidas and Reebok, but also smaller brands like And1 and Dada.
“Back then it was [all about] the newest Jordans – for me the 16’s and the 17’s. [And] seeing the new Shox shoes was a big deal, especially the Vince Carter line. I was heavy into Nike Basketball then. Oh and And1 – the whole streetball thing,” said Michael Vincent, NYC fashion retail merchant with well over 300 pairs in his collection.
Clearly, SLAM and Kicks on Court had a powerful impact on people who are influencing today’s sneaker culture. And while it’s impossible for print magazines to keep up with the speed of the Internet and social media today, it’s still fun to thumb through an old SLAM magazine and relive the moments that helped shape today’s sneaker-obsessed generation.
The above quotes have been edited for clarity.
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