A pair of artists hope that their community grows right alongside Canada's burgeoning basketball culture.

Mark Serrano and Kelly Wan are two Toronto-based artists participating in the NBA's Represent project, a season-long campaign and digital hub promoting the record number of Canadian players in the NBA.

Serrano, who specializes in lettering, said he hopes that the growing number of Canadian basketball stars will influence a generation of artists, just as he has been inspired.

“We have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, we have Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins. It's grown. It's grown a lot,” said Serrano, listing off Canadian NBA stars. “I think that with the artists community this past few years, ever since the Raptors championship in 2019, I've seen it grow too.

“I've seen the interest in the sports arts grow as well, so hopefully it keeps going up.”

Serrano said he draws a lot of inspiration from the sport for his art.

“The game of basketball has a narrative - teamwork, individual performances, come-from-behind victories, etc.,” he said. “These events can be a great source of inspiration for artists to create visual stories, illustrations and a series of artworks that capture the essence of the game.

“The design elements in basketball like the courts, jerseys, logos can serve as inspiration for artists exploring design, illustration and lettering.”

Both Serrano and Wan both started working with the league through the NBA Creators Project, a collaboration between Microsoft and NBA Canada featuring designers and creators who are people of colour.

They've now moved on to NBA Represent, which launched at the start of the 2023-24 season to showcase the league's Canadian talent and provide fans with new resources, merchandise, and contests. That includes digital wallpapers and prints featuring the work of artists like Wan and Serrano.

Working with the NBA introduced Wan to basketball culture and now she sees many connections between the sport and the world of art.

“I started seeing a lot of illustrations or posters for basketball, and they were all so amazing,” said Wan, whose work can be found on Instagram ↕kkaerii. “Half my time before starting the project was just going through all the different art, posters or even just like photography and collages.

“I didn't know there was like such variety, and there's so much you can do with basketball.”

Wan and Serrano's contrasting styles underscore the artistic diversity within the NBA Represent project.

She does “very whimsical” art inspired by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli and its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki as well as American children's illustrator Mary Blair. Serrano cites letters and graphic designers Seb Lester, Tobias Saul and Corbs, another member of NBA Represent's roster of creators.

“What truly got me into hand-lettering and illustration was my love for the game as a young kid,” said Serrano, whose work can be found on Instagram ↕markserranostudio “I remember my family followed the Lakers and the Bulls and that's when I started copying the team's logos.

“I've always loved the colourful branding and I've carried this throughout my design career. ”

The NBA says that there was a 13 per cent growth in average Canadian viewership last season and that the league had over 238 million video views across its social channels.

NBA Represent also includes each Canadian players' upcoming games, including the date, time, and what television channels carry the matchup.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.