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Points in the Paint: The NBA 75 Artist Series

The NBA, Bleacher Report, and a group of elite artists have teamed up for a unique visual celebration of the league’s 75th anniversary.

With an assist from an All-Star team of visual artists, the NBA and Bleacher Report have curated a mixed-media collection befitting the scope and ambition of the league’s 75-year story so far.

Officially launching Wednesday, the project is part art exhibit, part apparel collection, calling upon five names from all corners (and generations) of the art world to celebrate the style, prestige, and passion of the game of basketball.

Hank Willis Thomas’ NBA jersey quilt

Meet the Artist Series’ starting lineup:

  • Pat Peltier’s label Bandulu created custom embroidery inspired by the logos of the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat
  • Legendary graphic novelist Frank Miller created pencil and ink drawings themed around the Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Toronto Raptors
  • Pop artist Sue Tsai painted four works around the Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Chicago Bulls
  • Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas created a quilt that recreates the NBA logo using pieces of jerseys from across the history of the league
  • Jeweler Greg Yuna crafted three gemstone-laden pendants inspired by the Knicks, Lakers, and the NBA itself

On Tuesday, Boardroom swooped down to SoHo to get a special preview of the collection and had a chance to speak with Tsai and Miller about what happens when one’s artistic approach gets supercharged by unabashed basketball fandom.

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Sue Tsai Goes Hard in the Paint

“I’m a huge basketball fan in general and it’s incorporated in a lot of my artwork, so it was just a great opportunity — not only as a participant in the series, but also as a creative director and a curator to oversee a lot of the project,” New York native and pop surrealist Sue Tsai told Boardroom about her unique role. “I’m an artist myself, so I can kind of bridge the gap between a Bleacher Report and the other artists that are involved in the project. It was a really exciting opportunity for me to be able to take on that role and to be creating art for the project as well.”

In addition to overseeing the broader creative process, Tsai’s mandate was to create works around the Lakers, Knicks, Nets, and Bulls. And while her love for basketball is sincere, she wasn’t about to suppress her personal preferences.

Rather, she leaned into her allegiances and let them fly.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching the Lakers. My family was big Laker fans. And then obviously being from New York, I’m more of a Knicks fan,” she said. “I think there is definitely a little bit of bias in there as far as my artwork and how much you could tell went into them, being able to show my own personal fandom. It kind of shows a little bit of my childhood.”

Celebrating the diamond anniversary of the league in any and all ways made a ton of sense. But Tsai’s appreciation for the NBA comes from the fact that its evolutions are constant, whether related to the aesthetic of the play on the court or the cultural climate around them.

“I think basketball culture has always been ingrained into pop culture and fashion and sound. I think the last 25 years compared to now, I think we definitely have evolved,” she said. “Fashion has always been a big part of the players’ identity, but I think being able to represent that individualism through a team letting the fans be a part of it is really important. So for me, it’s about creating items that the fans can have that are more individualistic than typical, standard merch. That’s what’s so great about having all different kinds of artists; everyone just has a different perspective and style.”

And in the same spirit that says you don’t have to have the otherworldly ability to dunk or unleash a killer crossover in order to appreciate one as a fan, Tsai is pleased to have played a part in a collection that hoop heads of all stripes can enjoy as a community whether or not they have fine art bona fides.

“No matter if you’re an art fan and you don’t know too much about sports or a sports fan and you don’t know too much about art, there’s definitely something in between for everyone,” she said.

Bandulu embroidery inspired by the 76ers
Jeweled pendants designed by Greg Una

Frank Miller’s Visual Marvels

If they made All-Decade and All-Century teams for the worlds of comics and graphic novels, Frank Miller is on pretty much all of them. The man behind the iconic The Dark Knight Returns and Year One Batman stories in the 1980s in addition to creating Sin City, 300, and Marvel Comics’ Elektra, his bailiwick is one of both larger-than-life figures and unrelenting noir intrigue.

With that in mind, taking his pen and ink talents to the NBA 75 Artist Series to celebrate a different group of superheroes was a logical step.

“Where I really got into [basketball] was when I moved to Los Angeles and became a Lakers fan,” Miller told Boardroom of how his love for the game grew in the 80s and 90s. “I follow them very avidly. I enjoy their contests with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan — to me, watching those two teams fight was kind of like watching the Justice League of America fight the Avengers.”

Naturally, I had to ask if a history of Lakers fandom made taking on the Celtics’ iconography a tough, emotionally-charged task.

“The Celtics’ was easy, mainly because there’s a whole lot Irish blood and my whole family comes from the northeast,” he said.

And as for the Toronto Raptors? Well, Frank Miller just loves dinosaurs. But even great prehistoric beasts can’t match the magic of Showtime.

“The Lakers — well, they’re the Lakers. There’s nothing else like them,” he said. “I’ve lived in LA for quite a while and I’ve got a great fondness for it. It was just irresistible.”

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