Shelton Hawkins, Creative Director, Play in Color | Hoop Story #047

Shelton Hawkins, Creative Director, Play in Color | Hoop Story #047

Tell us about your childhood and the time spent living in Germany. What was that like

Basketball has been my whole life, whether playing basketball, coaching, designing. In third grade, I lived in Germany and I was a ball boy for Shaquille O'Neal's high school basketball team.

My mom was in the military at the time and I used to go to the gym that was on base. I remember this taller kid who everybody showed so much love to. He was funny and he was just a nice person to be around. I wanted that same feeling. So I used to bug him every day and just go to the gym with him. He even told the coach to let me be the ball boy for the upcoming season. At the time he was only a sophomore and he wasn't the Shaquille O'Neal everybody knows today. In his sophomore year, we won a state championship. So that was my first experience of seeing somebody successful at basketball.

That started my love of basketball, and from there it just kept growing.

Tell Us About Idlewild Park in it’s prime.

Growing up in the 80s and early 90s, Idlewild Park was our version of Rucker Park. It was where all the older guys coming back from college or from playing basketball overseas would go. That was the place where everybody was playing.

When I was younger, I couldn't wait to get a little bit older and good enough so I could get an opportunity to get on the court. There's only one court. So if you lose, you'll be done for the whole day. There would be so many people waiting to play. So for us, it taught us to be competitive right from the very beginning. Which, to me, is still my whole life.

Who was the park legend back then?

We had a couple of them. But to me, there’s one that sticks out. I literally tried to base my whole game off his game - Montay Bent. They called him Pony Boy, after the old 80s movie. He had the sweetest game. He never rushed. He always seemed like he was just at his own pace. He could just get a bucket on anyone.

At that point you can't play zone so you had to play man defense and you couldn’t help so I've seen him destroy people. He almost had a Ray Allen type of jump shot. We just knew every time he shot the ball it was gonna go in.

What was your most memorable moment from back then at Idlewild?

In 1998 I had just moved back from Columbia, South Carolina. At the time, I was highly ranked in a country and in the state of South Carolina. This was my first time being home in a while. It was a summer day and everybody was at the park and I had two dunks back to back. The first one was off the rim. Someone shot a long jump shot, I just caught that one and threw it in.

The second one was a windmill on a fast break. I'm a big guy, 6'4”, doing 1000 calf raises a night so I had that crazy bounce. Those types of dunks are what people know me for.

What was the state of Idlewild when you returned back home from overseas?

In 2003, my cousin passed away on that basketball court. He was already playing JUCO and had just signed his letter of intent to play Division II. (He's still the all-time leading three point shooter at Chesapeake College in Maryland.)

So in 2006, I wrote a letter while I was in college asking the town about renovating the basketball court. They didn't think it was a good idea at the time. This was before anybody was even looking at basketball courts as art or something super important to the community, so courts were left as is and were super unsafe.

Fast forward to 2013 and nobody was playing on this basketball court. I started writing the letters again. Every year just trying to see if we could do something. In 2017, I had a meeting with a lady named Megan Cook. I told her my idea and she loved it. She was like, “Hey, I know some people that can make this happen.” There was a vote and people said they loved the idea and the project so much they offered us both basketball courts in town. That's how it started and ever since, it's just been a crazy ride.

What is Play in Color and how did it come about? 

Everybody plays the game of basketball. White, Black, Hispanic.

It’s one of those sports where it doesn't matter your color; everybody has a chance to be able to just go to the park and hoop. That's why I wanted to go off with Play in Color.

My aesthetic as an artist has always been abstract and bright with a lot of colors. I wanted to keep that going. But for me, it was just more so about creating a safe environment for people of all races, colors and genders to be able to go and feel comfortable to play basketball.

How was the design concept chosen for the Idlewild court?

The design was inspired from a painting I saw while getting lost in Puerto Rico. I literally spent a year traveling all around Puerto Rico looking at basketball courts.

At that time, Pigalle was the only court I knew that incorporated art. So I went to Paris to see it. From there, I went to Puerto Rico to see the Melo court in San Juan. I kept traveling to see more courts.

While I was in Puerto Rico I got lost because I can't speak Spanish. I was supposed to make a right and I made a left and ended up walking past an art gallery and I saw this painting of abstract shapes and different colors and that’s what kind of inspired the Play in Color design on the court.

Is that design going to stay there in Idlewild long term?

The goal is to have a new artist every five years come in and design the court from their perspective. The first court we did, I designed it. Then with the second court we picked a high school student to design it. She actually received a scholarship to Temple University because somebody saw the basketball court she designed. They paid for freshman year to go to college. I want to be able to give people opportunities to design the next couple of years and see what happens.

So what are the plans for redesigning the courts?

For me, it's about growing. I actually did some courts this summer that I was really proud of. I did end up working with Project Backboard. They have always been like the big brother to me. They're like the Nike of the court art. I feel like they do it better than everybody else. So anytime I get to be around Dan and Sam from Project Backboard I learn a lot, and I'm always thankful.

But this year, I got to do my own big court with Adidas and artist Belchez. To me that court spoke volumes. It's located in the middle of the projects and what the court stood for as far as having a lock on center court being broken and all the positive words around just meant a lot.

How has this revamp of Idlewild and Moton Park impacted the community? 

I feel like it was one of the best things to happen here in the last 10 years. It's been good seeing so many people just using a basketball court I created.

I'll give you one example that sums it all up for me. One day, I'm riding by and it was cold out. I see a dad and a daughter outside. So I bring my ball and I'm shooting and hear the dad: “Hold your follow through. Just keep shooting. Trust your shot.” So then I went down there to talk to him. He was talking about his daughter and how she wanted to come out here to get some extra shots before she went to her middle school try out. I'm like dang! A court that we created. Like she wanted to come here and get some extra shots before she went to a try out. I didn't say hey, I painted this court. Nothing like that. To me, this just represents why that basketball court is there.

Tell us about your art journey. When did it start? 

So I think I always had art in me. My dad was an artist. He wasn't a guy that did a lot of talking but I remember us sitting down at a table in Germany just drawing. He was a hyper realist and I was always more abstract. He would sit me down and show me different things.

Once I started coaching college basketball I needed something to get my mind off of the season, so during the summers I would start painting. It just kept building up to where I was looking more forward to summertime painting than going through recruitment. I think that's what gave me the art bug.

Do you feel that basketball influences art and vice versa?

Yeah, especially in the movement. A lot of my art is free flowing and it’s the same thing with basketball. I approach my art as position-less art. I don't know if I'm gonna be asked to paint or to be designing. I just want to create. If you look at the Warriors, and their position-less basketball and how everybody can just go out and play, that's the same way I try to attack my art.

What life lessons have you taken away from basketball and applied to your journey as an artist.

No matter what you do in life, you are always gonna be a part of a team. So the good thing about being a part of a really good team at a young age is that it teaches you how to use everybody's strengths. No matter what you do for the rest of your life, you're always going to be a part of a team. If you have a family, your family is your team. Your friends, they are part of your team. Basketball has taught me the value of being a part of the team. Everybody doesn't always have to be Michael Jordan every game, sometimes it's necessary to be John Paxson. 90% of my projects are collaborations, because I enjoy working with people. I enjoy the back and forth, I enjoy different people bringing in different perspectives and different elements.

How do you feel about community over competition?

I'm all about community. I don't mind sharing information. I probably bug more people in their DMs asking for sit downs. When I learn something I make sure that I give it to somebody else.

I feel like with African Americans we are so competitive in everything. We're always going against each other instead of working with each other. The main thing I try to focus on is how I can really help people be better and not necessarily have to be going against each other.

What advice would you give someone who wants to better their community?

It could be something as simple as making lunches for people who maybe need a meal. You just need to start. Waking up and saying “I’m going to help somebody be better today.” As long as you have that mindset every single day. I think that's super dope and that's how it starts.

I literally wake up every day and I'm like, “Alright, who can I help today?” Or “how can I be dope today?”

I get many opportunities because I started from a good heart and a good place. Making sure that I wasn't doing anything for myself, but that I really was doing something for my community. Like for my cousin I mentioned, I really wanted to make sure that his name lived on forever. When people go to the basketball court there's a plaque out there with his story and this ties into what being a teammate is all about.

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