The 2020 NBA Finals are underway and the series has no shortage of world class talent.
While the team leaders that have carried their squads through the gruelling 2019-20 campaign, out of the bubble and into the finale are household names like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler, those aren’t the only individuals who’ve graced the cover of SLAM over the years.
We didn’t break down each of the SLAM covers featuring a player representing a squad in the NBA Finals – James has been on 25 covers alone – but we did scour the archive for eight memorable ones from years past.
Regardless of which squad you’re rooting for to take home the 2020 title, the personalities on display in the seven-game series have left their mark on the league for the better part of the past two decades.
Join us as we re-live a history chronicled on the SLAM covers of yesteryear.
SLAM #134 – Dwight Howard
This wasn’t Dwight Howard’s first cover, not even his first with the Orlando Magic, but it’s an iconic one from right in the midst of his MVP caliber reign of terror. Howard had led the Magic to the Finals the summer prior to this cover dropping, he was one of the biggest stories in hoops at the time, but it’s still easy to gloss over just how dominant D12 was during his early prime.
SLAM #142 – LeBron James
LeBron James had already blossomed into SLAM royalty by the time his Miami Heat chapter unfolded – this was his 12th cover – but this is where the King would go ahead and win his first title. James eventually broke the curse in Cleveland after all but it took the detour to South Beach for the chosen one to start making his case as a potential GOAT. Nearly one decade later he’s back in the Finals lining up across from the same organization.
SLAM #145 – Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo has settled into his role as a surly veteran capable of the occasional playoff gem, so much so that it’s easy to take for granted how dominant he was early in his career. Rondo won a title as a sophomore with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and he legitimately complicated the narrative that the C’s were were led by their three higher profile superstars.
SLAM #160 – Anthony Davis
This wasn’t Anthony Davis’ first time gracing the cover of SLAM but it was his first time since taking the collegiate hoops world by storm at Kentucky. The Brow put forth a relatively modest rookie campaign after this shoot but transformed into a walking legend shortly thereafter.
SLAM #163 – Dwight Howard
After an enormous level of hype and speculation, Dwight Howard arrived in Los Angeles to co-star with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. It didn’t go great. Howard’s first stint in California lasted just one season as personalities clashed in the locker room, so much so that it nearly soured him on the idea of returning. It’s 2020 now though and Howard has re-written the narrative surrounding the second half of his career. The purple and gold doesn’t look so bad on the big man after all.
SLAM #197 – Jimmy Butler
Words cannot sufficiently explain Jimmy Butler’s rise from fringe prospect to conference champion but the feisty wing has been making a name for himself since he was an understudy on a classic Chicago Bulls team. Butler bounced between franchises after leaving Chicago and finally found a home with an organization that sees the world much the same way that he does. We’re all better off as a result of it.
SLAM #220 – LeBron James
LeBron James’ free agency decision in the summer of 2018 would have sent shockwaves throughout the hoops world no matter where he signed but when the living legend put pen to paper with the Los Angeles Lakers we knew we were in for something special. It took a year for James to settle in but he’s back in the Finals for the ninth time in 10 seasons, now for the first time representing the Western Conference.
SLAM #225 – Miami Heat
We’re not going to sit here and say that we called the Miami Heat steamrolling their way to the 2020 NBA Finals but it turns out throwing love to an organization loaded with culture and high-ceiling talent would pay dividends. Butler’s arrival in South Beach took this team to new heights but Bam Adebayo’s star turn deserves recognition of its own. The fact that rookie Tyler Herro has had the confidence to shine on the stage he’s found himself on in his debut campaign is a feat in itself.