This August 1998 issue of Rolling Stone captures the Beastie Boys during a high point: Weeks before the issue hit stands, the band had returned after a four-year layoff with Hello Nasty, a career-summary record that sold more than 680,000 copies in its first week. The band had staged its third Tibetan Freedom Concert, in Washington, D.C., that June. The capper was its second Rolling Stone cover.
The group and photographer Mark Seliger came up with the idea to pose in old-school basketball uniforms, and Seliger ran with it, researching the look of classic NBA and ABA teams and finding a ratty old gym in the former site of New York's Stuyvesant High School. Rolling Stone executive editor Joe Levy, who wrote the feature, came to the shoot early; Seliger's crew was there, scrubbing the patch of wall that the Beasties were going to pose in front of. Levy was shooting baskets to occupy himself when the band arrived. "[Adam] Yauch comes in and grabs a basketball and wants to play a little one-on-one," says Levy. "Now, I have no game whatsoever, and he just starts sneering at me – every time he drives by me he's just, like, hssst. I'm thinking, 'I see we've lost the Buddhist and found the punk rocker in you.'"
The original idea was for all three Beasties to be basketball players. "I had all the uniforms ready," says Seliger. "But when the boys showed up, they made this little huddle, and Adam comes back and says, 'I'm gonna be referee.'" Yauch also wanted a wig. "So we got him one with a Marv Albert-style haircut," says Seliger. That, along with the glasses that Yauch wanted to wear, would become a problem. "I was concerned," says Seliger. It's an unwritten rule of covers that the subjects should look like themselves.
"So," says Levy, "I go over and say, 'They don't want you on the cover in funny glasses and a wig.' 'Why not?' 'Nobody's gonna know who you are.' Yauch looks at me and says, 'I think the fact that I'm standing in between Adam [Horovitz] and Mike [D] is going to be a pretty big clue.' That was kind of it."
"It's clear, looking at it now," says Mike, who's sitting next to Yauch in a side room at the band's Oscilloscope Studios in lower Manhattan, "that Yauch was right."
Reflecting on the shoot, Yauch says, "That was some 'Fight for Your Right to Party'-type shit, right there, coming true: the right to be an idiot."
"Fight for your right," says Mike, "to wear a good, honest disguise."
"This is probably the best cover that you've ever had for Rolling Stone over the years," says Yauch. "I'm sure you've had Hendrix and Mick Jagger and all those kinds of good people. But how often do you get artists doing themed covers? You don't see uniforms."
This story is from the May 18th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.