ANA Talks with NBA Nigeria and Dennis Osadebe on NBA Meets Art Collaboration

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NBA Meets Art is an initiative that bridges the gap between basket and art, highlighting the synergy between sports and culture. A part of this platform showcases the NBA Nigeria‘s league to creative collaborations that go beyond the court, highlighting pillars of culture like art, fashion, film, music and tech. This year’s edition featured a collaboration with Nigerian artist, Dennis Osadebe celebrating the rich heritage of nigeria with an installation titled, “Passing / Building / Victory”. This collaboration speaks to NBA’s goal of using basketball to connect inspire, and foster growth in communities in Nigeria.

A.S: What inspired the collaboration for statues as opposed to your conventional paint and canvas that you do?

D.O: I wanted to draw from childhood, what was important to me was, how did I get into  basketball? How is it something that was a part of me? I found that it was through, growing up, I loved it. Playing NBA games, like, 2k NBA Streets. What was important was to elaborate on that, to have my personal experience and share it with the world. What’s so unique is that a lot of people also share these similar experiences because they also play the same games. Also in era of the nineties where basketball in that era was connected to culture, I was connected to it on that level. It was essential to reflect on that and express that in this body of work that I did with them.

A.S: What emotion do you hope to invoke from viewers seeing the installation, NBA Legends? 

D.O: First of all, I want people to get a sense of joy because, again, it drives them back to childhood. I want people to see these works and inquire, why this gesture, why this guy, looking humble and trying to pass the ball as opposed to the general figurines that were designed. Where the player is about to make a shot or make or dunk. I wanted something where the figure looks humble rather than making the point himself. He needs to pass to a team player for him to achieve that. I want people to understand that sports and basketball, specifically, emphasizes teamwork. How can you translate collaboration into your everyday life? Engage with your community and build with your community on that level. I want people to feel a sense of responsibility to themselves and others that “I can’t do it alone”. I need you to be able to do it with me as well.

A.S: Your work is heavily influenced by symbolism. Every aspect you use is significant. Please highlight the top 3 symbols for you in this work. 

D.O: First of all, the mask, a recurring theme in my work, celebrates identity and heritage. It finds that connection between what is traditional. How does it, or what is the past and how does it contribute to the future? A connection must be found because without that, there is no future. Without the past and our understanding of it, there is no future. That’s the first layer. 

The second layer;  my work that was important to represent again was, the history of Nigeria and the sport of basketball.  How did I come to that history and celebrate that history? That was important for me.

The last and most important was the narrative. What is a very optimistic thing that I can share with people? It’s something that my work and my art is very centered around. I want people to always feel a sense of hope, optimism, and joy. Those were the three different pillars that I designed the work around.  

Image courtesy of NBA Nigeria

A.S: Can you speak to the symbolism of using only five figurines?

D.O:  First of all, it was about a basketball team, a team of five players on the court. It was vital to build around that. The gameplay of basketball, and what was important in the installation was also drawing from the offensive formation of, where does the point guard stay? Where does the forward stay? How do we put everyone together in a position to attack?

Most importantly, what was very symbolic of the three figures was that they all rotated. So they needed to turn because I wanted to celebrate the game in the sense that it’s a game of basketball. They’re in a match, they need to make a point, they need to win the game, but they can’t do it by themselves. They’re all rotating and looking for who to pass to. That was the philosophy behind using five figurines, and what was very, very important was that each figurine was supposed to celebrate Nigerians in the history of NBA.

We chose from their drafting years, from their birth years, it wasn’t only about the Nigerians who have achieved heights in the game. Who is the player in the sport, who has made the most passes as a Nigerian? We enjoyed those stats because it just built more context to each work. You see these works, they look like toys, but they have so many layers and meanings, and I want people to enjoy it as much as possible.  

Gbemisola Abudu and Dennis Osadebe
Image courtesy of NBA Nigeria

A.S: What inspired Dennis as the artist for this year’s collaboration? 

G.A: It came down to working with an artist we believe understands. He has a natural affinity for basketball, which made that easy. But that wasn’t a criterion. It was more so who’s an artist that can interpret the NBA’s DNA and the ethos of the organization. He happens to be somebody just from multiple conversations, the relevance of his work, his signature mask, that builds into the identity of the NBA. He was someone who aligned with that and that’s why in different conversations, his name came up numerous times. We had a conversation after I contacted him. I told him what we were thinking, and he said, give me a week. And he came back and came up with the theme of passing, building, and victory. I wanted the work to speak to who we were. I wanted the work to speak to what the NBA represents, and his work did. What he recommended from just the conversation made sense. That’s why we selected Dennis.

A.S: I thought it Passing/Building/Victory was from you to Dennis to interpret. Now you have clarified that it was all Dennis. 

G.A: No, that was, all Dennis. I can’t take credit for that. I told him what we wanted. That was his interpretation, and it made sense in terms of the passing, building, and victory. It was something; we wanted it to represent the game. The game of basketball that you can’t win alone. You have to win together. I wanted a work that spoke to that. I wanted something that spoke to teamwork. The reality is for any significant project, any great company, anything important you see in the world, it’s everybody coming together. With the same level of commitment, discipline, and hard work and bringing all of that together, it’s the way championships are won. I wanted something that spoke to that teamwork that spoke to the essence of building together. That’s what NBA Africa was building communities.

We’re building stuff in Africa, and I wanted a work that reflected that. That’s important to me. That’s important to the work we’re doing. I wanted a piece of work that spoke to that. It’s when I would talk about Nigerian NBA players, Dennis and I talk about both our love for basketball. From my experience in life, it takes a village. It assumes a collective coming together, where everyone, whether there’s a superstar or if you have weak links, you can win. It may not be as great. It’s always great when you have a superstar player and you have all the supporting players, and Dennis will tell you why he chose passing, where it’s, beyond just dunking and that one person showing off.

It’s like everybody has a role to play, and it’s like everybody playing their role with diligence, discipline,  hard work and bringing all of that together; that’s when magic happens. It’s just from sharing that with him. That’s why he came up with everybody passing. They’re playing their role, the building. You build together because everybody’s bringing their strength. Everybody’s getting their hard work, that discipline together. You bring all that together, then you win, and that’s victory. He came up with a theme, not my theme at all. I just shared what I would like to see in the work, and he came up with that. It’s great to see a collection embodying and speaking to who we are. 

Gbemisola Abudu and Dennis Osadebe
Image courtesy of NBA Nigeria

A.S: In regards to this, how did collaborating with artists come about? As this is the second edition of NBA Meets Art?

G.A: We introduced the concept of NBA Meets Art as a platform to celebrate basketball through the lens of art, through the lens of Nigeria’s rich heritage. Last year, the idea was formulated to determine what that would mean. Last year we had a photographic exhibition at the dinner. This year, we wanted to take it a step further to have an actual exhibition, an actual installation, an actual work that speaks to it. NBA Meets Art is the second, we didn’t have an installation last year with an artist.

A.S:  How come you chose the art industry as opposed to, let’s say, music or another industry to highlight your goals and mission statement for NBA Nigeria? 

G.A: It just happened that art is the first one where we’ve done it visibly. We created this platform called “NBA Meets”. When I started working at the NBA, one of the first things I did was look at the landscape of Nigeria and ask, “How do you make this thing culturally relevant in this market?” Nigeria is a prevailing culture, that’s when I stepped back and said, why not lean into all these existing pillars of culture? It’s not genius. I can’t sit down and say, wow, it’s a genius move. The reality is this is what the NBA does globally, anyway. So, okay, why not?

We identified five pillars of culture: fashion, art, film, music, and tech. I always give credit where credit is due. The reality is the tech play was not mine. I had a different idea. I remember having multiple conversations where I was teasing out the idea of this platform. It would come up several times that tech has become a significant part of our culture in Nigeria. Tech enables everything. The reality is that if something is coming up consistently, you must pay attention to it. That’s why tech has now become the fifth pillar of culture.

The first one we did was NBA Meets Music last year. The reality is when people talk about the halftime show that happened last year, where we had Burna Boy, Tems, and Rema perform. I played a massive role in being part of the production of that, which stemmed from the deputy commissioner of the NBA coming to Nigeria experiencing the Nigerian culture. He’s like, “let’s take this to the US and let’s do something” and ”I was like got it, not a problem”. We’ll make it happen and be able to work with Rema, Tems, Burna Boy to work with their team to put something together. Technically, that was a teaser of what NBA Meets Music would look like. The plan is to define those pillars of culture within Nigeria further. It’s going to be art. It’s going to be fashionable. It’s going to be a film. It’s going to be music. It’s going to be tech at that point as well.

A.S: Okay, so we have a lot more to expect. 

G.A: Yes, Many, many more to expect. Yes. If I have my way

A.S: I’m looking forward to it. Thank you so much.

Image courtesy of NBA Nigeria

For more information and updates, check out NBA Nigeria’s instagram here. And the artist, Dennis Osadebe here for more.


Azeeza Sanni is the General Manager of Art News Africa. She is a graduate of Middlesex University of Mauritius & Monash South Africa. You can reach her with information/requests on mail@artnewsafrica.com.

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