NBA Rookies Are Warming Up to Art Collecting

The NBA players’ union is teaching rookies the ins and outs of financial literacy, including demystifying the practice of collecting fine art to build generational wealth.

“Untitled” (2023) by Rafa Macarrón

Collecting is woven into the DNA of sports fandom. Children might start out with baseball cards and toys before moving on to limited-edition sneakers and jerseys signed by the sports superstars they idolize. So for the lucky few athletes who eventually turn pro and sign lucrative contracts, collecting fine art may seem like a natural next step. “The art world has never really been explained to a lot of professional athletes,” curator and creative director Set Free Richardson, who founded The Compound in Red Hook and the Bronx, tells ARTnews. “They may have seen paintings or pictures their whole lives, but it was never taught that they could get involved with art from a financial standpoint.” Nor is the art world a particularly warm industry to those lacking expertise.

Think450, the for-profit wing of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the NBA players’ union, aims to circumvent this by teaching rookies financial literacy and the value of investing money into assets, like art, that appreciate in value. For example, the organization recently held a party for newly drafted NBA players in Las Vegas where Richardson and Boston Celtics superstar Jaylen Brown gifted three prints by Spanish artist Rafa Macarrón. “I like turning people on to a work that’s a ‘one of one’ for them—something that really speaks to them,” Richardson, who has helped advise Kevin Durant and Malcolm Brogdon to buy pieces by KAWS and Kehinde Wiley, told The Art Newspaper. “Lots of these guys are young, buying big houses for the first time, and they need to decorate.” 

Set Free Richardson

That certainly applies to Brown, the NBPA’s vice president, who recently signed the most lucrative contract in NBA history. Advising rookies about collecting also dovetails with his position as a fierce advocate for social justice and community reinvestment. So what are his plans for his $304 million deal? Bringing “Black Wall Street” to Boston by promoting science and technology education in minority communities. (Black Wall Street was an economically affluent Black area in Tulsa before it was destroyed during the 1921 race massacre.) 

He also plans to keep building his collection, which, thanks to Richardson, he views as both an investment and an avenue of self-expression. “As I grow and mature, so does my taste for art and culture,” Brown told ARTnews. “Passing that knowledge down to rookies gives them a chance to get involved when their influence is at its peak. The younger generation are the next influencers of this world so giving them art hopefully gives them the inspiration to learn more but to also develop their view on life.” Maybe the horror stories about NBA players blowing through nine figures (or bypassing Nike’s stock offers) are finally a thing of the past.

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