In a packed arena filled with thousands of NBA fans from around the world cheering on the most elite athletes in the sport, Eric January, a senior painting major at Howard University, was in attendance as one of eight HBCU students whose artwork was displayed at the NBA House in Salt Lake City during All-Star Weekend.
January, alongside Jasmyn Marsh, a sophomore electronic studio major, and Colin McMahon, a freshman sports medicine major and graphic design minor, represented Howard University in their cohort of students commissioned by the NBA to create artwork for the NBA All-Star x HBCU Student Art Showcase. Howard had the most students represented in the cohort.
January’s piece, entitled “Showtime,” similar to the Howard marching band, reflected a tense moment in an HBCU basketball game.
“You’ve got to be able to see yourself. I’ve been told it’s the highest form of self-expression. I always try to put little bits and pieces of myself, our culture, and life experiences into my work. Another big part of my work is expressing a balance between abstract and realism,” January said.
Gary Mack, vice president of creative strategy and production with the NBA, told The Hilltop that these students were selected to create artwork inspired by the experiences of those who attend HBCUs. The goal of the program is to offer professional development opportunities and to increase awareness for HBCUs and their students.
“Eric, Jasmyn and Colin are great ambassadors for the university. They added their unique creative expression to the showcase that has elevated the discussion about HBCU excellence. They were a pleasure to work with and we look forward to mentoring them into the future,” Mack said.
Marsh expressed extreme gratitude to Mack and his team for granting her this opportunity, which she deems an unforgettable experience.
“All-Star weekend was amazing, and one of the…unforgettable moments of my life. It was an honor to be in a space with so many high-achieving individuals while sharing my art and doing something I love. I couldn’t be thankful enough to Mr. Gary Mack and the rest of the NBA x HBCU team for this incredible experience. This will always stay close to my heart,” Marsh, whose painting was titled “Ascension,” said.
In addition to having his artwork become a permanent part of an NBA executive office’s decor, January had the opportunity to attend all of the events of the weekend, such as the HBCU Classic presented by AT&T where the men’s basketball teams of Grambling State University beat Southern University 69-64 last Saturday.
In addition to this opportunity, earlier this month, January was invited by the Washington Wizards to do live painting performances courtside at one of their nights of celebrating and honoring Black history. He was also commissioned to paint a piece inspired by one of the players and brought it to one of their practices when he finished. He said that after seeing Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma staring at the painting numerous times, he decided to give it to him as a gift—to which Kuzma was grateful.
“It was amazing to be able to see art interact with real life because it’s alive in your head, you know. But when somebody stops their whole practice to look at your painting and come out and speak to you and tell you how much they appreciate your work…was pretty cool,” January said.
As the only freshman of the cohort, McMahon will be displaying a piece called “For My People.” He shared that he was grateful to have received this opportunity so early in his Howard career.
“I’m excited to be out here at All-Star weekend. This is a great opportunity for me as an artist to gain massive exposure and to meet new people that could possibly take my career to the next level,” McMahon said.
The 72nd annual game included a twist where team captains, Lebron James, whom January was most excited to see, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, selected their teams shortly before the game started. Team LeBron played for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah and Team Giannis, the winners, played for Raise the Future.
After winning 184-175, the NBA confirmed via Instagram that Team Giannis earned $550,000 towards Raise the Future, and Team LeBron earned $200,000 towards Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew