As the 2023 NBA Finals Nikola Jokic SLAM cover dropped, the magazine’s CEO – and self-described ‘obnoxious’ Lakers fan – Les Green was looking forward to an unplugged Father’s Day.
Green, a father of two, took over as CEO of the legendary hoops magazine in 2021, replacing its founder Dennis Page. Green put his time in on the athletic marketing and branding side before that, spending a decade at Nike and a year as marketing VP at Spring (formerly Teespring).
CoolxDad partnered with Green and SLAM to celebrate Father’s Day for the second year in a row.
“Obviously, running a basketball media company is disproportionately centered around and targeted to men – not to mention men of color,” said Green, about the collaboration, “so it was important for me to partner with organizations and find organizations that are just really celebrating fatherhood and telling those stories in a way that SLAM could relate to.”
On Sunday, June 11, SLAM and CoolxDad co-hosted a basketball tournament and kids’ skills clinic in Queens, NYC, followed by lunch, conversation, and gifts in the SLAM office. About 35 dads and their kids showed up throughout the day, plus CoolxDad and SLAM supporters.
“This year we thought it would be good to have a really tangible touchpoint where dads could be with their kids outside playing basketball and get some exposure to SLAM and just spend time together and celebrate fatherhood in a more experiential way, beyond content,” Green said.
We caught up with Green to talk about the 'daunting' privilege of taking over a legacy publication, father-son basketball duos, and the SLAM top 100 list that’s going to spin some heads pretty soon.
Photos by William Isaac
You are the first non-founder SLAM CEO. What’s it been like to take over from a man who has such a history with the publication? How was it filling those shoes?
It’s been exciting – sometimes scary and sometimes it feels surreal. Basketball is kind of my first love in terms of sport and so being able to wake up everyday and think about and talk about and work on basketball is definitely a privilege and a blessing.
Obviously, I grew up on SLAM as a kid – and as an adult really – so just knowing how much of a fixture it was, and how irreverent it was in terms of the way it presented the game, it was just a prominent part of the game. And now, being here, tasked with leading that is exciting. It's also kind of surreal and daunting, but I couldn't think of a better place for me to be.
What’s daunting about it?
Because of the brand history and legacy that SLAM has, you want to be able to honor that but also evolve it. Every year there’s a new basketball fan or basketball player that’s coming into the SLAM universe and I want to make sure that they have equally an engaging experience as I did when it was just a print magazine I was going into the 7/11, or wherever it was, to buy.
And this week is, I’m sure, particularly hectic. What is the week after the NBA Finals like for you?
It's definitely a gear shift for us. A lot of what we do is centered around the NBA season. We'll do a cover around the champs – in this case, the Denver Nuggets, which will launch today.
And then, we’re shifting gears to summer basketball. Summer is actually our busiest time, ironically, because when people stop watching the NBA, because it's over in the Finals, that’s when we start playing outdoors and going to summer tournaments and summer leagues. So, we're now at a time where, after the NBA finals, basketball conversations and that world doesn't stop, it actually keeps going. It’s a year-round proposition now for basketball no matter when the NBA is in season, especially with the WNBA being right in the middle of its season, so that's a big part of what we do.
Yes, and I wanted to talk about WSlam (the SLAM WNBA vertical). Was that launched before you started?
It was launched before I started (in 2019). It was one of the things that I was excited about. The women's games have made a lot of strides, I would say, in the last four or five years. I always think about that moment where Kobe was sitting courtside in that WNBA hoodie, and it just became sort of a visual, viral representation of how ‘the game needs to support the game,’ so to speak.
I think this last year… the way the NCAA Finals played out and the women's side just being more exciting than the men's side, the WNBA season kicked off with a lot of energy – this class of recruits and all the blockbuster trades. So I think the level of engagement, interest, and product has just leveled up a bit. And so it's exciting to see that happen. And it gives us a lot more opportunities to really elevate storytelling around the women's game.
I think there are starting to be some more broadly recognizable characters in the WNBA. I'm even seeing a lot more social media around individual players, which is cool.
I would say even beyond social media, even some traditional media, you're seeing WNBA players featured and heroes and more prominent than it maybe had been in the past.
Is there a story – not just from the WNBA, but in general – from the last year that really stands out to you that you think was the essence of SLAM?
I wouldn’t say this was a prominent story but one that I think about a lot is the dad-and-father duos that are prominent in the NBA now. I love the fact that SLAM, back in the day, we covered Kenyon Martin, and now we’re covering Kenyon Martin Jr.
There's just so many great father-son combinations where the younger generation are kind of the younger consumers of SLAM and their dads are guys that were featured in our magazine. I love the fact that our content and our coverage spans that long generational – so, we cover LeBron and we cover Bronny. And they both know who we are and, you know, SLAM is relevant to them.
That is very cool to see, and also very topical, so thank you. Let’s talk about you. You’re from LA, are you a Lakers fan?
Yeah, I’m an obnoxious, die-hard, delusional Lakers fan, so I fit in that specific subset of Lakers fans, which are very unique.
Damn, so how are you doing the last couple weeks?
Ha, I'm doing fine. Obviously, for Laker fans, every year that we don't win is a disappointment, for the most part. This year because we were so in such a bad place, pre All-Star, that, what we saw turn around and us making it to the Western Conference Finals was exciting and great to witness.
I don't like the way we went out, but, you know, now I can at least say we lost to the champs, which is somewhat of a small consolation prize.
Did your love of basketball have anything to do with either of your parents?
Actually, it didn’t. When you're a kid in school and you're finding ways to build friendships and have fun with kids in your school and kids in the neighborhood, basketball was just a natural facilitator of that, and that's how I started to play and enjoy the game. I played in a church league and, you know, tried out from my freshman team and didn't make it and made my JV team as a sophomore, and just started to love the game. Even after I graduated high school, I wasn't good enough to play in college – not really – but I still played on a daily basis at the park, at the gyms.
Obviously, [I know the game well] as an obnoxious, delusional Laker fan and watching 82 games every year, plus the playoffs, and just paying attention to the landscape. Then I worked for Nike for 10 years, and basketball was a big part of why I wanted to work there. I got to experience basketball in a whole different way from a business and marketing side being at Nike. But it didn't come from my parents. My dad tried to get me to play baseball, which just didn't take.
Now you have kids of your own to share the love of the game with. Tell us about them.
My daughter is 19, she’s a freshman in college, she goes to Savannah College of Art and Design, studying film and video. My son is 12, he’s in the sixth grade. We live in New York now; my daughter goes to school in Atlanta. They were both kind of raised in Oregon, on-off, obviously with my 10 years at Nike.
There’s a few years in there that we lived overseas in Johannesburg and Mexico City for a couple of different stints. So I've dragged them around the world and it's been good for them in giving them kind of a different view of the world.
Photos by William Isaac
What about for you? What lessons have you learned from living in all those different places?
I think just to be mindful about the world being much bigger than you or where you live. Sometimes we can get caught up in our own cities or universities or companies and you don't realize that there's such a big world and things are so different for everyone. But at the same time, there's things like music and sports that just universally bring people together, which is nice. I wasn't a huge soccer – or football – fan before I started working for Nike and spending time overseas, but seeing the way that people rally around that just kind of reminded me of the way that people feel about hoops back home.
Also, seeing the game of basketball growing internationally is also super interesting. Twenty years ago, basketball in a place like South Africa wasn't really that relevant. But now because the culture of basketball is so big and broad and inviting, and, you know, touches fashion and art and all these other things, it's definitely a culture that I think is spreading – which is good, because it means that I'll probably still have a job in the future of basketball.
I would think so. Did you get into any location-specific or niche sports while you were in other countries?
Well, funny enough, because my dad really loved baseball and got me into that, I was intrigued by cricket, which is big in South Africa and obviously a lot of other places around the world, including India and Europe and the Caribbean. So I started paying attention to it. There are a lot of parallels and similarities to baseball, especially the live version of the game. It's very casual. People sit around and drink beer and watch. And it's not as intense as maybe some other sports. But the casual kind of watching experience is pretty fun – although cricket matches can last for days and days.
Yeah, they can.
What’s your advice for others who might want to have a career like yours?
I would say my first piece of advice is just really starting to understand the world that you want to be at, at a really deep level, right? Nowadays, there's so many tools that we have to be able to be able to research and just find out different parts of the game that exists, or an industry that exists. So, try to be as much of a subject matter expert as you can.
And then, experimenting and trying things. I didn't know exactly where I wanted to be in this world of marketing and advertising in the first part of my career, but I tried a few things and I've quickly learned what I loved and what I didn't, but it was all helpful in terms of shaping me – doing your own research and getting all the information that's at your disposal and then being open to trying new aspects of this world you want to be in to get those incredible experiences.
Those are probably the two biggest pieces of advice. I think everything else starts to fall into play after that, you're dedicated and committed to improving and genuine about building relationships.
Photos by William Isaac
Is there anything upcoming for SLAM that you're excited about that you think people should know about?
A fun one that I think dads – especially ones slightly older or younger than me – will appreciate is that we’re putting out a special-issue magazine and also some content around a list of top 100 point guards of all time. So it's always fun and interesting, and–
Controversial. It’s controversial when you have his list, but like I said, I love talking and debating and arguing basketball all the time. So I think that's something exciting that my dad compadres, will be excited about hearing and maybe giving me a hard time about as well.
You think there’s anybody on there who’s going to surprise people?
One-hundred percent. When people see the cover there’s going to be one person that stands out that’s going to cause some conversation.
Any final thoughts? How are you spending Father’s Day?
I don’t even know yet. It’s a few days away so we got to decide, but usually I’m low key. It’s all about starting the day off with a good breakfast - hopefully some waffles or pancakes involved and just spending time with the family and just taking a break and unplugging from work.Thank you to CoolxDad. They’ve been really good about being an outlet and a partner for SLAM to elevate conversations around celebrating fatherhood and it’s not something that I think is a very prominent or natural talking point for a lot of families. I really appreciate that.