The position of a Creative Director isn’t one normally on the roster of an NBA team. Recently however, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the Cleveland-born Daniel Arsham as the team’s first Creative Director. The contemporary artist joins LeBron James, who returned “home” in 2014, in escalating the team’s stature. In addition to winning a championship trophy, which is out of his control; the artist has the job of elevating the team’s brand to a global level.
Arsham is not new to collaborations; the artist has worked alongside Porsche and Dior on their brand collaborations. In addition, he collaborated artistically with Merce Cunningham and Pharrell Williams. Arsham’s prolific career, which also includes solo museum shows, will be enhanced by his new title as the only creative directorship within a professional sports franchise.
Arsham plans to design on-court apparel which includes player jerseys, as well as redesigning the court itself. Furthermore, he will work on the stadium’s adjacent areas to make the location more appealing to fans. Going a step further, Arsham will redesign many of the city’s public basketball courts.
Adding to this long list, the new creative director will provide vital input for the franchise’s video and graphics content that has 25 million social media followers and he will oversee merchandise design and distribution. There is not necessarily a blueprint for this ambitious assignment; however Arsham plans on using some of the strategies that have made shoes and streetwear so desired in recent years.
This all begs to ask the question: is this rebranding actually “art” and does it blur the line between culture and sport? What does a cultural icon like Arsham know about rebranding an NBA basketball team into a cultural touchstone? Well, this might end up being more of a consultant role; but perhaps it will do a lot more to make the Cavaliers appear more relevant and “cool?”
Regardless of how far Arsham wants to reach, his responsibilities are partially mandated by NBA rules; for example, jersey designs need to be approved by the league and its apparel partner (Nike) years in advance. This “role” is the first for the league, who in the past has reserved a similar role for pop culture icons.; the closest parallel is Drake who served as the Toronto Raptors’ artistic director.
For Arsham, the relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers is extremely personal. His close ties to Cleveland go back more than one hundred years. He says (courtesy of an interview with Ryan Waddoups with Surface Magazine), “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.”
Last year, in the midst of a global pandemic, Jennifer and Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owners, founded the Public Art Program. This contemporary art initiative launched last September, along with the stadium’s grand opening. More than one hundred works by Arsham and his art-world counterparts were included… these site-specific commissions convey a spirit of sportsmanship and resilience, and were created especially for the arena. Jennifer and Dan’s son, Grant Gilbert, the team’s director of brand strategy said, “Becoming a big brand in the NBA has historically been about geographic location or having a superstar player. No team has taken it upon itself to do the things we’re talking about doing in terms of building a new narrative.”
Good luck Cleveland… we love where this is heading!