For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more. 

We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.

Most players in the “SLAM 30” would, honestly, be in most basketball outlets’ rankings of the most relevant 30 players of the last three decades. Brandon Jennings, however, is a special case. Thanks to a truly symbiotic relationship made possible by Brandon’s love of SLAM, the people he surrounded himself with and our admitted bias to players who fuck with us as hard as we fuck with them, BJ is like “our” All-Star.

The relationship started regularly enough—not that it didn’t mean the world to a young Brandon. He got what we used to call a “little Punk” story in our high school section, shot in his Compton (CA) Dominguez uniform and interviewed by Ryan Jones. Just a sophomore at the time, Jennings remembers it fondly. “That was my first look in SLAM,” he says on a recent Zoom. “In the Dominguez locker room. I was so fucking excited! Like, Everybody is gonna see me. I’m known now. The SLAM thing was always the biggest thing in sports and basketball magazines. When you did the cover shoot with Sebastian [Telfair] and LeBron James and I was a kid in the 7th grade…I had to be like them. SLAM was always that stamp of approval.” 

Jennings’ path got more unique from there—as a player and a SLAM subject—as he transferred to Oak Hill Academy in VA for his last two years of high school. Not a shocking move, but to travel all the way from L.A. and go for two years was rather brave. BJ made a couple appearances in SLAM/related pubs while he was a Warrior. In August ’07, while in NYC for the second annual Elite 24 game (in which, he proudly reminds me, he set a record that was never broken for assists in the game with 23), he posed for the cover of our special PUNKS magazine alongside fellow top guards Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson. Half a year later, back in the Big Apple for the Jordan Brand Classic, we shot Jennings at Grand Central Terminal for our High School All-American First Team. He’s got fond memories of both shoots but does share the one gripe he has with us in our long history. “I’m not gonna front—I was mad I didn’t get the diary that year,” Jennings says of the storied column that was penned by Evans that season.

Jennings’ path took two massively unexpected turns after high school. For one, the University of Arizona commit chose not to wait out any debates surrounding his academic eligibility and turned pro—in Italy! For another, he did so in Under Armours, becoming the first signing the famous “football” brand ever made in hoops. UA’s foray into basketball was largely led by Kris Stone, a former SLAM Advertising Manager who had a flair for marketing, a belief in Brandon and a loyalty to the Basketball Bible. We became, in many ways, the perfect place for UA to hype its move—with Jennings at the forefront. And since we’re always suckers for good access to a dope baller with personality—we were down. After a couple more small appearances in our pages, Jennings’ next SLAM hit was big time: the European adventurer was on the cover of SLAM 128 next to a more conventional Continental prospect—Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio. 

Future Shock, indeed.

“That was so unreal for me,” Jennings recalls today. “The decision I’d made. Ricky being who he was. I was a little nervous. The first time I met him was at that shoot, the night before we played against each other in Barcelona. I met his mom, too, rest in peace. Ricky and I just shared a little chit-chat that day. We knew we were about to do some big shit.”

Jennings’ time in the L came sooner than Rubio’s. A little while after that cover, he was in the 2009 Draft, going 10th overall to the Milwaukee Bucks. And soon after that, in just his seventh NBA game, Jennings dropped 55 points. On the Golden State Warriors and their rookie PG, Stephen Curry. What were we supposed to do? Put him on his first solo cover, of course. Behold SLAM 135, an Adam Fleischer-Atiba Jefferson production that featured Jennings bursting off the front page in a fire red Bucks uni. “That meant that I made it,” Jennings says. “I was that kid running to the store to get that magazine. Now I’m on the cover. That was a full-circle moment.”

Jennings played all 82 as a rook and copped a solo KICKS cover the next summer. He’d go on to play 555 games in the League, bouncing from Milwaukee to a few different spots before finishing his career as a Buck in ’18. It was an appropriate ending, because it connected Jennings to the Giannis Era in Milwaukee and greatly extended the lifespan of his #BucksInSix quote.

And even though he stopped playing, Jennings has stayed fresh and relevant. Most notably, he’s the founder of streetwear brand Tuff Crowd. And in another full-circle moment, the brand recently collabed with Under Armour and its current signature hooper, none other than Curry. 

You’ll never guess where you can read more about it

Photo by Atiba Jefferson. Featured image via Getty Images.

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