I was watching the Brooklyn Nets against the Charlotte Hornets the other night, and as Kevin Durant was shooting a free throw (below left), I noticed the unusual jersey and wondered “why do they have the “Nets” name in funky parentheses? I thought it looked cool, but it didn’t make any sense to me visually.
Then the game announcer mentioned that these were new “City Edition Basquiat Jerseys, inspired by the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.” I’m a huge fan of Basquiat’s art, and to be honest with you, I don’t see much of a connection. Sure, Basquiat had numerous paintings with words in them, and he had a somewhat distinct hand-writing style, but I don’t look at this “BKLYN NETS” font on the jerseys and think Basquiat. To their credit, they did put the iconographic Basquiat “crown” on the shorts, as can be seen on Kyrie Irving’s jersey, below right, so that helps a little bit. Here’s a look at Basquiat’s painting titled “Tuxedo” from 1982, in which you can see both an example of the Basquiat crown and his handwriting, and then you can be the judge of how Basquiat-like these jerseys are.
Who was Jean-Michel Basquiat?
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist who rose to fame in the 1980s as part of the neo-expressionism movement. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960 to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. He showed an early interest in art and was encouraged by his mother, who took him to museums and enrolled him in art classes.
Basquiat started his artistic career as a graffiti artist, using the pseudonym SAMO (Same Old Shit) with his friend Al Diaz. They wrote witty and provocative messages on walls around Manhattan, especially in the Lower East Side, where hip-hop, punk, and street art culture thrived.
Basquiat soon transitioned from graffiti to painting on canvas, using acrylic, oilstick, crayon, collage, and mixed media. He developed a distinctive style that combined graffiti-like images and words with expressive and colorful brushstrokes. He drew inspiration from various sources, such as African American history and culture, music, poetry, politics, religion, anatomy, sports, comics, and pop art. He often incorporated symbols and motifs that reflected his identity and experiences as a black artist in a predominantly white art world.
Basquiat became one of the most successful and influential artists of his generation, collaborating with other artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Francesco Clemente. He exhibited his works in galleries and museums around the world, attracting critical acclaim and commercial success. He also faced personal challenges such as drug addiction, racism, and fame pressure. He died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27.
What is the connection between the Brooklyn Nets and Jean-Michel Basquiat?
The connection between the Brooklyn Nets and Jean-Michel Basquiat is based on their shared roots in Brooklyn and their appreciation for each other’s art forms. The Nets decided to honor Basquiat’s legacy by creating a special edition jersey that features elements from his paintings. The jersey is part of the NBA’s City Edition series, which allows teams to design uniforms that reflect their local culture and history3
The jersey is mainly black with white letters that spell out “BKLYN NETS” in a font that resembles Basquiat’s handwriting. The letters are enclosed by parentheses that suggest quotation marks or graffiti tags. The jersey also has colorful stripes on the sides that echo Basquiat’s use of vibrant colors and geometric shapes. The shorts have a crown logo on the front that is one of Basquiat’s most iconic symbols. The crown represents his self-proclaimed status as the “king” of the art world, as well as his admiration for black heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Charlie Parker34
The jersey was unveiled on November 23rd 2020 and was worn by the Nets players for several games during the 2020-21 season. The jersey received mixed reactions from fans and critics. Some praised it for its originality and tribute to Basquiat’s artistry, while others criticized it for its lack of resemblance to Basquiat’s style or for its commercialization of his work35
The jersey is not only a fashion statement but also a cultural statement that celebrates the diversity and creativity of Brooklyn and its people. It is a way of connecting basketball and art as forms of expression and entertainment that can inspire and empower people from different backgrounds and generations. It is also a way of honoring one of Brooklyn’s most famous sons who left a lasting mark on the world with his bold and brilliant paintings.