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How A Tragedy Connected Graffiti and Basketball

To find a connection between hip-hop music and basketball, one only needs to walk into an arena as teams are warming up for a game and listen to the sounds around them. Almost certainly, one would hear the basketballs thudding on the hardwood, the cheers of an already-anxious crowd, and the rhythmic pounding of popular hip-hop songs echoing through the gym. 

To find a connection between hip-hop fashion and basketball, one can look at the travel attire and game-day outfits of the professional athletes as they arrive at the competition site. Players recreate the clothing styles of well-known hip-hop artists by supporting the same brands and looks. As the rapper Migos said, “[Players] look at [rappers] for jewelry, they look at us for the clothes, they look at us for the sound and for the way to move around, for the whips and the rides and the ‘what’s the new thing?'” 

The Instagram page of the Los Angeles Clippers regularly features photos of the players’ arrival, consequently promoting not just the team itself but the clothes they sport, which in and of themselves represent a harsh deviation from the dress code implemented by the NBA in 2005 that prohibited the relaxed, expressive look.

The ties between the two worlds–hip-hop and basketball–does not stop there, however, and a recent tragedy has helped reveal just how strongly the sport finds footing in another aspect of hip-hop culture: the art.

On January 26th, NBA legend Kobe Bryant was among nine victims of a devastating helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also passed away in the accident. Bryant gained international notoriety during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers for his dazzling dominance in both offensive and defensive aspects of the game. Choosing the road less traveled, Bryant opted to forego college and enter the 1996 Draft as a senior at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. Bryant was drafted as the 13th pick overall to the Charlotte Hornets, but never played a single game for the team; he was immediately traded to Los Angeles and remained there for the entirety of his career before retiring in 2016. 

Bryant’s personality and confidence on the court as one of the youngest players to ever be drafted drew almost-instant attention. He earned the honor of NBA All-Star in just his second year in the league and repeated the accomplishment another seventeen times in addition to helping the Lakers secure five NBA championship titles. He was credited throughout the world of sports for bringing a unique style and swagger to the organization and influencing the game of basketball forever, largely thanks to his unprecedented work ethic and dedication, which was coined “Mamba Mentality” in reference to Bryant’s nickname, Black Mamba.

That being said, his accomplishments were not limited to the court. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his short film “Dear Basketball,” an animation of a letter he wrote to the sport in conjunction with the announcement of his retirement. Bryant was also responsible for the foundation of the Mamba Sports Academy, which embodied the mission to inspire, train, and develop young athletes to help them fulfill their potential. 

Though Bryant’s talent may have been relatively confined to the court, his influence and inspiration was not. Within hours of his passing, graffiti art featuring the late legend appeared around Los Angeles, the city that had fallen in love with a confident 18-year-old prodigy in 1996, cheered for him as he added to the Lakers’ legacy and made it his own, celebrated his career as he transitioned from infamous guard to, in his own words, an involved “girl dad” to his four daughters, and grieved his passing as severely as if he were family. All stages of the city’s relationship with the star were plastered in Lakers purple and gold on any empty space that could be filled with a depiction of Bryant throwing down a spectacular dunk, launching his trademark fadeaway jumper, or smiling alongside his daughter Gianna. Blank walls and sides of buildings were covered with artistic portrayals of snapshots from Bryant’s time on the court, his Instagram page, and his life in the spotlight, most with the typical bright colors and lettering of traditional graffiti art. 

The two worlds–basketball and art–might seem to be worlds away from each other, but perhaps blanketing Los Angeles in graffiti is the perfect way to remember Kobe Bryant. An artist on the court is immortalized everywhere by artists off of it. 

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