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.

John Wall has graced the cover of SLAM as a high schooler, as a college player and as a pro. Oh, and he has a KICKS cover, too. Trying to think of someone else who can say that? There ain’t one. This issue is dedicated to the most influential SLAM guys ever. All-time players, fan favorites, real hoopers. But only John Wall can claim that. (Bragging rights for that fun fact may come on a bit of a technicality, since legends like LeBron and Kobe never played college ball, but still!)

An athletic freak able to finish with power or finesse with either hand, Wall has always been a blur—faster while dribbling a basketball than 90 percent of other players in a full sprint without one. In the prime of his career, Wall’s athleticism made him an All-NBA player, but his relentless confidence and never-back-down demeanor made him a fan favorite. At points, he called himself the best two-way point guard in the League and the best shot-blocking PG in history. At a time when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were still going strong, John declared himself and Bradley Beal the best backcourt in the NBA, too.

Part of what’s made Wall such a magnetic force in basketball culture since he was a teenager is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Like when he jumped on the scorer’s table after beating the Celtics in a legendary Eastern Conference Semis Game 6, celebrating with the Wizards’ faithful. Or when he broke down crying in a postgame interview after the tragic passing of 6-year-old cancer patient Miyah, with whom he’d developed a strong bond. Or when he returned to DC years later in a Clippers uniform and proudly screamed out, “This is my city!” to the arena he called home for five All-Star seasons. Wall has always been unapologetically himself, from the very beginning.

And yet, the eventual No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft was virtually unheard of outside of North Carolina when he started high school. But after killing local competition at Reebok camps everywhere from Chicago to Philly, we highlighted his play at the ’08 Elite 24 Game in SLAM 122.

And it must be mentioned: John Wall has the GOAT high school mixtape. With over 10 million views and counting, it is four minutes of utterly breathtaking basketball—no-look dimes, ankle-shattering fastbreak spin moves, ferocious finishes at the rim with both hands. No disrespect to the HS mixtapes of Brandon Jennings, Aquille Carr, Seventh Woods or Austin Rivers, but John’s is still the best ever. [Ed. Note: This is Abe’s opinion. We don’t have time to debate this here.] In the year 2176, people will still have his mixtape bookmarked. The top comment on YouTube jokes, “Imagine having to guard John Wall after a long day of pre-calc and AP gov,” but that’s really how it was for the Class of 2009.

We dubbed John a future star on the cover of SLAM 128, alongside Lance Stephenson. Soon after, JW linked up with DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and the rest of John Calipari’s first No. 1 recruiting class at Kentucky. As a freshman, he won SEC Player of the Year, was a consensus first-team All-American and was front-and-center on his second SLAM cover, appearing next to his teammates and Coach Cal on the May 2010 ish that immortalized that iconic squad.

It got so crazy at UK that John had to take golf carts to class to avoid mobs of fans. Kids across the country were imitating his signature dance, flexing and twisting at the wrist. Believe it or not, “Do the John Wall” by Troop 41 has even more YouTube views than Wall’s legendary mixtape.

Fitting that John had his own theme song, since his passion for music has always permeated his style. Hell, it influenced us—go back over his cover lines and feature stories in the pages of SLAM over the years, and you’ll see not-so-subtle odes to the likes of DeJ Loaf, Shy Glizzy, Lil Durk and Fetty Wap. That love has always been reciprocated by the artists, too. Put it this way: John Wall is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite NBA player.

Which is why it was no surprise to us when John hit the Dougie during intros of his home NBA debut, immediately capturing the imagination of a new generation of basketball fans—and pissing off old hacks like Colin Cowherd. (The same guy who once scrunched up his face to try to shit on guys like Wall, Russ and Melo by telling a national radio audience: “SLAM Magazine will put on the guy that scores, and has style, and has got some juice to his game.” Word. And?)

Wall’s first solo SLAM cover dropped during his rookie year with the Wiz, followed by another in 2015 and then KICKS 18, shot by the legendary Atiba Jefferson. John’s SLAM covers have chronicled his rise from unknown kid to HS mixtape legend to college star to perennial All-Star with his own signature shoe. And he’s taken us along for the ride every step of the way, the #WallWay. 

Featured image via Getty Images. Portrait by Atiba Jefferson.

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