NBA Meets Art at Art X 2023 to Influence Beyond the Court

Tiffany Amber Gardens might be home to the iconic eponymous luxury fashion brand founded by Folake Coker back in 1998, but, on Saturday, November 4, 2023, it took on a new designation: a space celebrating the NBA Meets Art installation, a special project within the just concluded Art X 2023 edition.

“We created a platform last year called NBA Meets Culture,” Gbemisola Abudu, NBA Africa VP and Country Head, NBA Nigeria, explains of the initiative. “The five pillars of the platform are arts, fashion, film, music and tech. Tech has become a fifth part of our culture because it enables all the other pillars. It just so happened that arts was the element we started out with last year, choosing to celebrate basketball through the lens of Nigeria’s rich heritage and arts culture first.”

Gbemisola Abudu and Dennis Osadebe at NBA meets art 2023
For its first collaboration with a Nigerian artist, the NBA Meets Art team chose to work with mixed-media artist, Dennis Osadebe

It is almost symbolic that the evening event celebrating the 2023 instalment of the NBA Meets Art initiative took place in the Tiffany Amber Gardens. This lifestyle hub, housing the flagship store of one of Nigeria’s premier luxury fashion brands from the tail-end of the 20th century, is a testament to how following a dream, no matter how crazy it may seem, can have unexpectedly wonderful and positive consequences.

This is not the NBA Nigeria’s theme this year in its collaboration with artist, Dennis Osadebe; however, it is the overarching message in its commitment to supporting the culture of the communities it exists in and extending its influence beyond the courts.

“First, people don’t realise that when you think about sports and arts, those are two languages that the youths resonate with. They’re the language of the youths. Arts is a way in which the youths express themselves, and, there is that natural synergy between arts and sports, it’s always been that way historically,” explains Ms. Abudu.

“Then, on top of that, one thing has become quite exciting in Nigeria. Through the invention of Art X and Art Week, art has been democratised. It has taken it away from the elite to the average Nigerian. That is why it was very important for us to do an installation there because we wanted to speak to the youth in a language that resonated with them. So, if you look at the installation that we created with Dennis where we talked about team building, working together, and building communities together, this is part of our messaging for the youth. So when you say why arts, that’s why arts. If you really peel back the layers, you can see where the natural fit comes in between sports and arts and specifically, basketball and arts.”

description of the passing/building/victory installation
The installation which took place during the Art X 2023 edition celebrates community and team-building

Dennis Osadebe concurs wholeheartedly.

“I would say that arts is in the fabric of everything … I got into basketball from playing video games. So from NBA2k to NBA streets, NBA figurines, NBA toys like a toy of Kobe Bryant, a toy of Iverson – that was my entry into the sports. And I would say, that’s arts. That is expression. That is almost giving the user the tool to express themselves. And you know, I found that very important in this collaboration because art also is very representative of culture, and a big part of culture is visual art.”

Based on the theme ‘Passing/Building/Victory’, the installation features five masked figures — Osadebe’s signature style — all holding a ball.

“This collaboration speaks to passing, it speaks to teamwork. And that is the ethos behind basketball – teamwork. You can’t win by yourself and I wanted to draw that into the work. That is why in the installation there are five different sculptures. So those five sculptures represent a basketball team about to make a point. And they’re arranged like that because that is an offensive position in order for you to attack and make a point. And the reason why it’s rotating and they’re spinning around is because they’re looking for who to pass the ball to.”

How did this collaboration come to be? For Dennis, it all started when “Gbemisola reached out to me saying look Dennis, this is our objective with NBA Nigeria and we would love to work with you on this next version of NBA Meets Art. And once that conversation started, I was excited because what is very important to me is to elaborate on being an artist and showing that there is not just one way to be an artist. You can be an artist that also celebrates community in a sexy way. So we started the conversation and what stood out to me is that basketball is a sport of 5 people that play as a team. So I said I wanted to build on that idea of teamwork because teamwork is important to sports and it is important to the community. As a community we can’t be great by ourselves; we can’t even go through the day by ourselves. We need people in every part of it. So it was just organic once we started the conversation to build on the collaboration.”

Dennis Osadebe's Passing/building/victory for NBA Meets Art
The way I describe [NBA Meets Art] is by looking at the process of creating this piece with Dennis. It is everyone coming … and bringing their best together and that’s how we’re able to create this work, and that’s what it means to build communities, that’s what it means to build anything together – Gbemisola Abudu

For Gbemisola, it was a bit more complex than that.

“When this conversation started about creating an installation at Art X, it really was about what type of artist’s body of work and signature speaks to who we are as a brand, and, who has a natural affinity for the brand. And I am not saying … a natural affinity for the NBA or for basketball is a requirement for us to work with an artist. But for the thought process for the first work we do, we wanted an artist that had a natural affinity for the game, understood the game, and understood the ethos of the NBA.”

“A name that was consistent in all the conversations I had, whether it was from research I did (I’m a lover of arts as well, so I’m familiar with several of the artists in the space), having conversations with Art X, having conversations with different patrons of art; a name that kept coming up consistently was Dennis Osadebe.”

“As we grow the footprint of the brand in Nigeria, there is a level of intentionality on how we showcase Nigeria to the world, how we showcase our excellence and the amazing things happening in our creative industry. So, when you look at all those different layers and you have all these criteria that we sort of spelt out, one person that checked a lot of those boxes was Dennis. And that’s why we decided to go with him for our first collaboration with an artist. And expressing to him what we were interested in creating, and him being able to come back and say, based on what you’ve said, based on my work, here’s what I would present. And the theme of ‘Passing/Building/Victory’ came together.”

Judging by the response NBA Nigeria has received from this first installation, Ms Abudu is more than confident that the initiative is not only here to stay, but would also unlock incredible and unimaginable opportunities for the Nigerian art community and just about everyone who is affiliated with the NBA here in the country.

Close up of passing/building/victory by dennis osadebe
You can’t show people the future by just talking; sometimes, they need to see it, they need to experience it, they need to see colours, they need to see everything come together. And I think that is important for the NBA – Dennis Osadebe

“So this is the first time we have collaborated with an artist in Africa for our NBA Meets Art initiative; we’ve never done this before. And what we’ve seen so far … is an insane level of interest from galleries around the world. Everybody has been like this is amazing work. I’ve received calls from galleries from all around the world who’ve said, ‘Can you bring this work there?’ There is a hunger for it, seeing the reaction even at the fair, all the pictures of kids painting on it and really just having a great time, seeing a bunch of kids saying they want to take the figurines home with them. And a lot of people saying they want a piece of this at their home, can they buy the figurines? It just really drives home the point that wow, this really was successful, people love it, people care about it.”

As for what is next for Nigerian art and the larger community within the NBA, Gbemisola is very optimistic. “We’re going to find very interesting ways to implement programs and initiatives to deepen our involvement with the arts community in Nigeria in a sustainable manner. There are plans to figure out what that would look like after the success of this installation with Dennis.”

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