Daniel Arsham Scores a Slam Dunk

The in-demand artist has been named the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new creative director, a first-of-its-kind partnership that rewrites the rule book for how blue-chip artists can engage with sports and contemporary culture.

Daniel Arsham and “Moving Basketball” (2019)

Daniel Arsham, the genre-bending artist whose best-known works are eroded casts of cultural objects, has been named the creative director of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Snarkitecture co-founder, whose prolific career spans high-profile partnerships with Porsche and Dior, becomes the first artist to ever hold such a position. Until now, the NBA has never appointed an artist as creative director of a team—they typically reserve the role for pop culture icons, such as Drake, who served as artistic director to the Toronto Raptors.

In his new role, Arsham will be tasked with revitalizing the team’s brand identity, which entails managing social media accounts, designing team apparel, and securing partnerships with local artists and community organizations. His responsibilities will unfold piecemeal, which is determined partially by NBA rules. Jersey designs, for example, need to be approved by the league and apparel partner Nike years in advance, but he plans to focus on more immediate interventions in the interim. He’s reportedly eyeing a renovation of the walk-in tunnel at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the team’s home arena, as well as designing a capsule collection for the arena’s team storefront and e-commerce platform. He also becomes a minority partner in the team—another first between an artist and professional sports franchise.

“Basketball Rack” (2016) in blue calcite

Arsham has strong personal ties to Cleveland, making his new role deeply personal. “My family’s Cleveland roots go back to 1908,” Arsham said in a statement, noting that his great grandfather emigrated there to start a fabric-recycling business called Arsham Brothers. “My grandfather, father, and I were all born in Cleveland. To join the Cavaliers as creative director, and to have the opportunity to shape and lead the team’s visual identity as we look ahead to the future, is an unbelievable honor that I can’t wait to share with the full community of Cavs fans.”

Despite the scores of milestones achieved with Arsham’s new role, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Arsham was the first visual artist to sign with Adidas, and has secured a long-term partnership with KITH, which saw him design in-demand streetwear collections and mastermind multiple flagships through Snarkitecture. The sport has also long been a recurring theme in his work, from an eroded basketball encrusted with quartz crystal he created for Dior to Bronze Basketball, which he hand finished with a custom torch-scored patina. And last year, the Cavaliers unveiled a site-specific installation by Arsham, called Moving Basketball, that uses his signature architectural interventions to convey the sport’s high-octane kinetic energy.

“Bronze Basketball” (2019)

Moving Basketball debuted as part of the new Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Public Art Program, a contemporary art initiative that launched this past September in tandem with the fully transformed venue’s grand opening. It joins more than 100 other works by Arsham’s art-world peers, including Nina Chanel Abney, Shepard Fairey, and KAWS. Privately funded by Dan and Jennifer Gilbert, who own the Cavaliers, the collection features site-specific commissions created for the arena that convey a spirit of sportsmanship and resilience. The Gilberts are betting big on art and cultural conversations. “Becoming a big brand in the NBA has historically been about geographic location or having a superstar player,” Grant Gilbert, the team’s director of brand strategy and son to Dan and Jennifer, told The Wall Street Journal. “No team has taken it upon itself to do the things we’re talking about doing in terms of building a new narrative.”

The Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Public Art Program was curated by Anthony Curis, the founder of Detroit gallery Library Street Collective, who has worked with the Cavaliers since 2013 and was pivotal in realizing the partnership between Arsham and the team. And according to him, Arsham’s new role acknowledges “the massive influence artists have on culture at large, including across fashion, music, and now sports.” He also notes that the partnership serves as a testament to the team’s commitment to fostering arts and culture. “In their desire to offer fans a well-rounded cultural experience, they saw the potential in creating a more dynamic relationship between contemporary art and basketball.”

We didn’t think Arsham’s influence could possibly grow any larger, but he continues to surprise us. With a big-picture outlook, he also thinks the partnership may open entirely new doors for postwar artists: “If Warhol was around today, he’d be the creative director of the Knicks,” he tells Artnet News. “He would’ve known what to do there.”

“Future Relic Basketball” (2020) with Dior
All Stories