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Off the Hardwood and into Hard Assets: Collecting Pursuits of the NBA's Elite

Off the Hardwood and into Hard Assets: Collecting Pursuits of the NBA's Elite
August 31, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: Peter Berko

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While the rest of us collect their cards and memorabilia, NBA players are turning to sophisticated collecting categories more befitting of their increasingly lucrative contracts.

For a brief moment, Celtics star Jaylen Brown was the highest paid player in NBA history. While he's highly philanthropic, with over $300 million coming his way, he'll soon have more money than almost anybody would know what to do with. There is an asset, though, with a price tag heavy enough to make a dent that can also hold and perhaps even grow its value: art.

Brown's intellectual curiosity is well documented, so now that he's armed with an increasing trove of resources, the opportunity to learn about the art collecting world is of great appeal. As Brown told SLAM Magazine, “I’m currently growing my art collection and looking forward to learning more about art and all its capacities. As I learn and grow, I plan on sharing that learning process with the world, as well as my NBA counterparts.”

The sharing process brought Brown's newfound affinity for art into the public eye. Alongside creative Set Free Richardson at NBA Summer League, Brown gifted works to several of the top picks in the draft. Scoot Henderson, for example, received a signed print from one of Brown's favorite artists, Rafa Macarrón. The Spanish artist, born in 1981 and specializing in abstract figures, could use the the high-profile co-sign; a Macarrón index tracked by LiveArt has fallen over 30% in the last three years.

Brown and Richardson's initiative is supported by Think450, an NBA Player's Association organization which teaches players about financial literacy among other things. According to what Think450 president Que Gaskins told ArtNews, art in particular is seen as a vehicle to express to players the power of owning an asset that doesn't depreciate like, well, an actual vehicle.

People often wonder how an asset class perceived as stuffy maintains relevance as a new generation comes into wealth. Sometimes, it's as simple as the newly wealthy looking to prior generations' success and seeking to replicate it, albeit with shifts in taste at the margins. With prominent athletes and musicians entering the art collecting fray, influence will play a sizable role in maintaining art's status as the ultimate collector's asset.

But art isn't the only category of refined taste the NBA's stalwarts have pursued. Over the last decade, fine wine has become an increasingly prominent part of NBA culture. Retired player Channing Frye has hailed its power as a conversation piece, connecting the players not only to each other but to those outside of NBA circles - in boardrooms, investment pitches, and tasting clubs. As players themselves have become more astutely involved in business and investments, wine has offered further connective tissue to demonstrate that their heightened attention to detail extends off court.

Players like Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony were known to travel with cases of fine wine on the road, comprised of a variety of favorites. CJ McCollum famously brought dozens of bottles to the NBA's bubble during COVID, keeping his hotel room at a brisk 60 degrees to offer more hospitality to the vino than himself. Numerous stars have become winemakers themselves, including Anthony, McCollum, Frye, and Dwyane Wade. A league that used to be mesmerized by cars and jewelry is now more impressed by trophy wines: whose tastes have expanded beyond Napa to Burgundy, or who has the aged Domaine de la Romanée-Conti?

The NBA's prodigious talents are commanding more money than ever on the open market, and with it, they're turning to the tried and true collecting hobbies of the wealthy.  Art and wine continue to demonstrate an unyielding pull on those of means, however those means were derived, and that pull remains timeless.

For those categories, the endorsement of the young and influential is a real slam dunk. Huge kudos to us for resisting that grotesque cliché until now.

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