Alongside hockey and football, basketball is one of the most popular team sports, even though it was actually invented by accident. In 1891, James Naismith wanted to spice up his students' winter practice; and basketball was born. It was included in the program of the Olympic Games already in 1936, and ten years later the most prestigious basketball league in the world, the NBA, came into existence. Since then, the sport has gained immense popularity, armies of fans, player legends were born and, like any other part of (pop)culture, has left its mark on art.
It started with peach baskets
James Naismith, a PE teacher at the Springfield YMCA International Training School was asked to invent a winter team sport, which the students could play inside a gym. Naismith thus came up with a game which had a peach basket placed ten feet high on each side of the gym and whose rules we now know so well.
Artist Victor Solomon depicts the basketball theme quite often. He studied under experienced glass artists and continues to work with glass until these days, whether it's his work How Can I Not, or the more recent Sunflower Vessel, where he uses a glass model of a basketball as a kind of container for sunflowers in bloom. "The basketball is a vessel – a vessel for competition, a vessel for community, a vessel for creativity," commented he on his work, which is open for interesting interpretations. A basketball is a crucial item for the game through which the abilities of individual players can "blossom". It is the ball work that the players put all their effort into, which symbolized by the sunflower. Solomon lives and creates in San Francisco, where basketball is deeply rooted, which surely has its impact on his work, too.
In 2008, the Beijing-born artist used his piece Fragile State – Purple to protest against the Summer Olympics held at his birthplace. At the time, China was facing a series of protests pointing out to China's occupation of Tibet. "Basketball hoops made of neon lights emphasize the impossibility of sports. I hope that the effect of this fascinating utopian vision will reveal the emptiness and crisis hidden behind the prosperity of sport. The basketball scoring system consists in throwing the ball through the rim of the hoop. That is, the hoop is the goal. Throwing the ball through means that the neon light will be hit and destroyed," commented Zhou Wendou on his work then. The symbolism of his work, which points to the fact that some issues reach beyond just being a sport, is still relevant today.
From a completely different sphere comes the picture painted by Mikey Yates. The Filipino-American painter is the author of the piece called Hoop Dreams. It's a nostalgic snapshot that portrays a younger version of Yates, then living in Seattle, playing with a basketball. This way, the artist recalls the times when he was living in America, to which he wants to "return" again through this painting. "You kind of hold on to those things about your state or your place... It was a way for me to connect to the U.S. while away," said Yates. He often paints his friends and moments from his everyday life.
The artist Erol Eskici created the painting Homo ludens (Latin for Man Playing). The phrase Homo ludens has appeared many times throughout the history (of art) – it was defined in the European environment by Jan Amos Comenius in his book Orbis Pictus. The term describes a person who develops themselves through play. The title of the painting also offers the key to its own interpretation: it captures basketball players in various positions. Does it mean that an individual is growing through sport? Or is it a social critique pointing to the principle of sport being a pastime that dulls minds? The color stylization rather suggests the second option – the painting is pandering to social criticism similarly to the one by Zhou Wendou.
Other artists we have written about on our website and who have dealt with the topic of basketball include Milena Dopitová, Monica Garza, Brandon Donahue, Pelle Cass, or Dario Escobar.