Transition Game

It's no surprise that basketball's shift from an all-white game into one dominated by African-Americans evolved alongside the implementation of Civil Rights. Athletes engaged with self-expression and actualization, changing both the game and the culture at large. In 1968, Sports Illustrated sent artist Howard Kanovitz to college campuses to photograph the country's best NCAA players. The resulting hyper-realistic, life-size painted sculptures, rediscovered by Adam Shopkorn and shown alongside work by Richard Avedon, Lorna Simpson, and Lucien Smith, made up the April 2014 exhibition Transition Game. Staged at the New York City gallery Salon 94, and curated by Shopkorn and Bafienne Stephan, the show deftly explored the connections between basketball and Civil Right in the 1960s.

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The magazine commissioned award-winning painter Howard Kanovitz to create work for its big NCAA basketball preview issue. Focusing on the class of 1970, Kanovitz created life-size cut-out sculptures of signature player moves, and then stretched paintings of the players over them. The works were displayed at New York's Waddell Gallery to coincide with the issue's release in December of 1969.

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Detail from "Poets" by Lorna Simpson (2013). Simpson's installation features 19 hand-altered archival photos of Baltimore-based basketball players from the 1950s through the 1970s, paired with aluminum sculptures that reference the ball but not the player.

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"Bob Lanier" by Howard Kanovitz (1969). A center for St. Bonaventure University, Lanier was picked first overall in the 1970 NBA Draft, ended his college career as a three-time All-American, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

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Detail from "Poets" by Lorna Simpson (2013). The piece is named after the team moniker of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; in 1940, it was the second school in Baltimore to graduate African-American students. It remains one of the city's HS basketball powerhouses, and counts among its graduates not just future NBA stars Muggsy Bogues and Sam Cassell, but one of hip-hop's immortal poets, Tupac Shakur.

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"Rick Mount" by Howard Kanovitz (1969). A shooting guard for Purdue University, Mount averaged 33.3 points a game during the 1968–69 season, second in NCAA Division I basketball.

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Detail from "Poets" by Lorna Simpson (2013). Simpson re-added the original hand-marks on the photos, then paired them with new, original abstracts that reference the basketball but not the player.

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"Calvin Murphy" by Howard Kanovitz (1969). A guard with a flamboyant solo game for Niagara University, Murphy was a legendary ball-handler and streaky shooter (once scoring 68 points in a college game); at 5'9", he holds the distinction of being the shortest-ever player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Detail from "Poets" by Lorna Simpson (2013).

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"Basketball Worktable" by Harold Kanovitz (1969). A silkscreen print (edition of 150) that Kanovitz created for the 1969 Waddell Gallery show that featured photo studies for the sculptures, including a couple of players whose likenesses were not used.

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"Pistol' Pete Maravich" by Howard Kanovitz (1969). Nobody embodied the game's transitional values more than the Louisiana State University's coach's son, who grew up to become the ultimate crossover playmaker, incorporating black basketball style in to a white context.