In the N.B.A., the Court and the Canvas Are Increasingly Intertwined (Published 2018) (2022)


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In the N.B.A., the Court and the Canvas Are Increasingly Intertwined (Published 2018) (1)

By Mike Vorkunov

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Caris LeVert arrived at a mostly empty West Side art gallery for a private showing late last October. William Villalongo, an artist, walked around with him that evening, describing his dozen or so works hanging on the walls. LeVert, a second-year Nets guard, is a neophyte in the art world. His father, Darryl, had been a graphic designer and drawn family portraits, but LeVert was in unfamiliar territory.

Still, Villalongo and LeVert found common ground through the tour. “There’s not too much difference between artists and athletes,” Villalongo said. “It’s based on skill.”

There is also the creativity that both groups possess. Much the way a game cannot be replicated, each painting is one of a kind.

“The only difference is you guys,” Villalongo said of athletes, “make a lot more money.”

For LeVert, the evening was part of an immersion. He had recently begun learning more about art but was not yet intrepid enough to buy anything. For now, art is a burgeoning hobby. In time, though, it could lead him to become a collector.

N.B.A. players have grown more interested in art in recent years and created a new market of consumers and enthusiasts. Former Knick Amar’e Stoudemire has amassed a notable art collection and served as a league tastemaker. Grant Hill’s African-American art collection has been exhibited at museums. Former Suns guard Elliot Perry is known league-wide for his impressive trove.

“Guys have different ways of collecting and different reasons for collecting,” Ronnie Price, a 12-year N.B.A. veteran, said. “I don’t think that it’s as big of a secret as it used to be. I think guys are into learning more about their world. Because basketball players have an extremely creative mind and I think most basketball players you see with tattoos, they appreciate art. They have art all over their body.”

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So what was once a small niche of N.B.A. collectors has flourished into something larger. Numbers are difficult to come by, but Price estimated that two players on each team he’s played for — he’s been with Sacramento, Utah, Phoenix, Portland, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers — have had collections. And in the middle, serving as a liaison to the art world, is the longtime New Yorker Gardy St. Fleur.


Born in Port-au-Prince, St. Fleur grew up with art as a central part of his life. His father collected Haitian masters and commissioned work for local artists. His family moved to Brooklyn when he was a child, and St. Fleur spent his adolescence and early adulthood learning from artists. He befriended Ionel Talpazan, the New York City artist famous for painting extraterrestrial life, worked as a studio manager for Villalongo and, he said, regularly grabbed coffee with Emmanuel Benador, an art dealer.

And he became just as interested in the artists as in their work.

“Why do they do the things that they do?” he said. “Fascinated with the way they think. As I get more information from them, I gravitate closer and closer to them. That helps me understand a little more.”

After a job out of college working in e-commerce, St. Fleur decided to follow his passion. Villalongo introduced him to Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who had a prestigious African-American art collection, and she gave him an assignment: Help her find new artists who were finishing graduate school.

Not long afterward, he decided to push into the art business full time. And from there came his involvement in the N.B.A. ecosystem, a relationship built in part from the days when St. Fleur would hang around the Rucker Park and West Fourth Street basketball courts in Manhattan, meeting people who eventually became player agents. Getting to know Deron Williams, the former Nets guard, became fruitful, too. Williams was looking to build an art collection, not just acquire a few pieces.

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So St. Fleur got involved, and soon his name began to hopscotch around the league.

He has worked with Houston Rockets forward P. J. Tucker, Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning and Yankees pitcher C. C. Sabathia, among others, he said. Knicks guard Courtney Lee was connected with him through the team, St. Fleur said, after he had previously built a relationship with Carmelo Anthony, the former Knicks star. N.B.A. veteran Dahntay Jones started talking to St. Fleur about art while he was working out at Manhattan’s Sky gym last summer, where Anthony held his popular “Hoodie Melo” scrimmages.

In his work, St. Fleur has tried to be as much teacher as salesman. He introduces athletes to artists, trying to break through the intimidation that affects some players. St. Fleur sends out newsletters to enlighten players, ships books to display different artists and styles, and texts photos of works to players if he believes one or more of them might be interested. Sometimes, he’s there to caution a player against overpaying.

You don’t need millions to buy art, he often says.

When Jay-Z released his latest album, “4:44,” St. Fleur was flooded with text messages. A song, “The Story of O. J.,” with its references to buying artwork, had served as a jolt to some players, reinforcing what St. Fleur had been telling them for years: that art can also be an investment and a way for generations to create something to pass down.

“When guys start understanding the history of families collecting,” St. Fleur said, “maybe it can be bigger than sports and who I am.”


This evolution all took a while. In the mid-1990s, when Perry was in the middle of his N.B.A. career, he was virtually alone as he started his collection.

He had turned to art almost by accident. In 1996, Perry was seated next to Darrell Walker, the former Knicks guard, on a long flight to Japan for an exhibition tour led by Charles Barkley. Walker asked him if he knew anything about art.

He did not.

The next season, Walker began helping Perry explore. When Perry came to New York, Walker called with instructions on which gallery to visit. When he went to Boston, Walker recommended a studio. Perry got to be so insatiable that he would arrive in a new city, drop his bags in his hotel room and go studio-hopping to find new works. He began reading, too, learning about Renaissance artists and American painters who emerged in the 1930s with the support of the federal Works Progress Administration.

Still, it took a year until Perry was comfortable enough to buy his first piece. Entering the art world had been overwhelming.

At first, Perry built a collection from works by African-American artists. Motivated by a quote in a catalog he had received at a showing of works owned by Walter O. Evans, a renowned African-American collector, Perry later decided to purchase only work from artists he could meet in person, get to know and support. He called Walker the day he decided to take that approach.

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“This is a journey,” said Perry, who is now a limited partner and executive with the Memphis Grizzlies. “Even though you have the resources, that doesn’t mean anything. You still want to take your time. You want to buy the right pieces. You’re going to make some mistakes, but that’s part of the journey.”

The heightened interest in art from N.B.A. players would seem to dovetail with their increased influence on American culture. And it has made art something of a conversation starter in N.B.A. locker rooms, where, not long ago, Lee, Michael Beasley and Jarrett Jack of the Knicks were discussing kre8artafax, an artist they discovered on Instagram.

“He’s like a basketball player,” Dahntay Jones said of kre8artafax. “He feels something every time he starts painting, so that’s just passion in its purest form. That’s part of what we do — passion about our game.”


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What were the two on court changes that altered the course of the NBA during the 1970s? ›

Regardless of the cigar-chomping coach's recommendation, the league introduced the three-point shot in 1979 and never looked back. The other big on-court change during the decade was that NBA players began embracing the slam dunk as a form of artistic expression.

Does the NBA have a code of ethics? ›

Always treat your teammates, coaches, opponents and officials the way you would like to be treated. That means respect, dignity, and sportsmanship at all times. Play fair.

Do NBA players practice between games? ›

They will likely have a team shootaround earlier in the day and maybe a light warm up session before the game but neither will be a full practice. Some players may do some additional individual practicing before or after. (For example, Kobe was known to do pretty intense practices for hours, even during game days).

How competitive is NBA? ›

The odds of making the NBA are very slim, and especially so, because the league is much more competitive than other professional sports like baseball and football. 2.9 percent of high school seniors that play basketball go on to play for NCAA teams. 1.3 percent of NCAA seniors are drafted by NBA teams.

In what constructive way does basketball have change in both as a sport and as a part of today's curriculum? ›

The sport has improved the overall behavior and performance of young adults, teaches them teamwork and persistence. Basketball also brings unity in communities and races alike, and has a constructive influence on the economy as a whole.

How has technology changed basketball over the years? ›

The addition of SportVU cameras (and their accompanying data) to every arena in the NBA has completely revolutionized the way basketball is analyzed. Long gone are the days when a player was judged simply on points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals and field-goal percentage. Now, we can see so much more.

Can you drink beer at NBA games? ›

Guests will consume alcoholic beverages in a responsible manner. Intervention with an impaired, intoxicated or underage guest will be handled in a prompt and safe manner.

What happens if an NBA player refuses to play? ›

The team could justifiably withhold payment, terminate his contract, or sue him for monetary damages. (Nearly every professional sport requires players to sign a similar contract.) The only circumstance under which a player can refuse to compete—in just about any professional league—is if he's injured.

How much do NBA players get fined for missing games? ›

ESPN reports both sides have agreed to a compromise, with unvaccinated players being docked 1/91.6th of their salary for each game they miss. This means unvaccinated players will forfeit approximately 42.6% of their total salary this season if they sit out every home game, as opposed to 50% of their salary.

What happened to the NBA in the 70s? ›

The Lost Years of the 1970s

The money grubbing mentality that had set in during the players' contract pursuits of the early 1970's had left a lasting impression. The league had fallen into an era of cocaine abuse, poor imaging and non-televised games. Even the NBA Finals of 1978 and 1979 were on tape delay.

What rules have changed in the NBA? ›

Under the new rule, teams may commit a take foul during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and the last two minutes of any overtime period (regardless of whether the foul occurs during a fast-break play) without triggering the heightened penalty.

How has the basketball court changed over time? ›

For nearly 80 years, full-sized basketball courts have been the same dimensions: 94 feet long by 50 feet wide. But basketball players at all levels – and especially the NBA – have gotten bigger, stronger and faster, taking up more space on the court and covering ground quicker than ever.

When did the basketball court change? ›

The International Basketball Federation made changes to its official court rules in 2008 for World Championship and Olympic competitions, including the extension of the 3-point line to around 22.1 feet. The official court dimensions for both the NCAA and the NBA are 94 feet long at the sidelines and 50 feet wide.


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