The art of collaboration


It all started with a roar.

LeBron James is pitched forward, mouth open, giving birth to a ferocious and primal scream. The head of a great lion leans out, mirroring The King with a powerful roar. The electricity and kinetic capacity of the moment is captured in the jagged background.

You may have seen the striking image making the rounds on social media. But before it was the mark for LeBron’s 2017 Zero Dark Thirty playoff campaign (where he goes dark on all social media channels until the playoffs conclude), it was the cover image for the fourth and final issue of the Hardwood Paroxysm Quarterly. (At that point Hardwood Paroxysm was an affiliate site of FanSided and this author was the site editor.)

That illustration was a collaboration between Elliot Gerard and John Boyce. In finding its way onto LeBron’s social media feed, this piece of artwork helped catapult Gerard’s career and gave birth to a new project that brought together 30 different artists for a new round of collaborative artwork — the #nbacollab series.

“I have always been drawn to collaborating ever since I was a kid,” Gerard told The Step Back. “I used to draw with my friends together on the same piece of paper and I had more fun with that than just creating it by myself.”


Gerard and Boyce met at a gallery showing where they were both displaying their work. The two artists work in very different styles but both described being drawn to the aesthetic of the other. When the opportunity to do a cover illustration for Hardwood Paroxysm arose, Elliot immediately thought of the way Boyce’s style could complement his own.

“Immediately a picture developed in my mind,” said Gerard. “I wanted to show LeBron James yelling for the entire city of Cleveland — a kinetic roar expressing what the entire fanbase was feeling. I saw a lion protruding from James’ head like a spirit animal evolving from his energy. I thought of Julie Taymor’s costumes for the Broadway adaptation of ‘The Lion King’ where the actors wear metal masks on top of their heads and I wanted this piece to emulate this. I shared this all with John and within a day he sent me exactly what I was looking for. I took his lion and meshed it with my illustration of James, made it work with the overall design and the rest is history.”

The success of that illustration, a year before LeBron tweeted it out, led to a series of collaborations for Gerard and Boyce including gallery shows, social media campaigns and projects for a variety of web outlets. At the root of their partnership was always the blending of two different styles from two different artists of different backgrounds.

“For me, personally, I tried to venture out into the style of his, and I just wasn’t good at it,” Boyce told The Step Back. “And then here comes Elliot with the half that I couldn’t do. So it’s pretty cool, bringing the style I couldn’t do with the style I do now.”

When LeBron shared the image last April, it took things to a whole new level. Gerard and Boyce ended up collaborating on a mural commissioned by the Cavaliers that was displayed in front of Quicken Loans arena for the 2017 NBA Finals. Emboldened by the success, Gerard decided to take a leap and move from basketball art as a side passion, and make it his career. He’s now the Vice President and Creative Director for MKTG, an international marketing agency — a move he says he never would have had the courage to pursue without LeBron James using his own work as encouragement for The King to strive for greatness.

“Before LeBron chose my artwork,” said Gerard, “I would not have even thought to reach out and engage them [MKTG] to discuss joining the team. But now I had the confidence I had always been seeking and know that my passion could add another dimension to the already great team I had worked with as a freelancer.”

In the midst of their ongoing collaborations, Boyce and Gerard also worked on a follow-up to their signature LeBron illustration, with the roles reversed — Boyce illustrating LeBron and Gerard handling the lion.

That urge to collaborate hadn’t left Gerard. Earlier this season, as he assumed his position with MKTG, he also went back to basketball illustration as a passion project and brought this #nbacollab series to FanSided. The idea was fairly simple — 30 illustrations, one for each team, done in collaboration with 30 different artists. A simple idea, incredibly complex in execution.

The series has evolved over the course of the year, with the first illustration rolling out in early September and the last landing just last week. Appropriately, it was Gerard and Boyce wrapping up the series they inspired together.

“The process evolved with every artist,” said Gerard, “each piece had its own challenges and surprises. I purposely choose two of the artists that worked directly for me. During this series I moved cities and jobs — so I had one designer from each of my teams, most recently from my exciting new team at MKTG, collaborate with me.”

The community of basketball artists is surprisingly close-knit so finding eager and willing collaborators wasn’t a problem. Michael Walchalk, who collaborated with Gerard on the Phoenix Suns illustration, explained the wealth of options this community presented.

“It’s kind of a small world, all the people that do sports art,” said Walchalk. “We all kind of know each other online. We all kind of have unique styles. Elliot has a good eye for bringing styles together.”

You can check out the full series below.

The actual process of assembling illustrations, remotely, with artists working on the other side of the country was both a testament to the power of creativity and the reach of modern technology. Addison Foote is a graphic designer who has worked for clients like the NBA and NBC, and worked with Gerard on the illustration for the Portland Trail Blazers.

“If we were sitting down together, I think things could have gone a little quicker and more smoothly. When you’re working on your own, you don’t have to think about anything else, other than what’s in your head. You can just go for it and get it done quickly. Working with another artist you have to slow down and bounce ideas back and forth,” said Foote.

Stephanie Lagakis, a former co-worker of Gerard’s, worked with him on a the illustration for the Charlotte Hornets. She explained how the process unfolded.

“He created the Kemba Walker illustration, and he was just like, ‘I want you to add your style to it.’ My style is very kind of eccentric, psychedelic, colorful, playful line work. So I just did the wings on Kemba Walker in my style. And then I just started messing around with the background and trying to create something dynamic and different from the other pieces in the series.”

The result is one of the more striking illustrations in the set.

For Gerard, the series was about helping artists unite and pulling this community closer together. It’s why he says he focused on pulling together artists of so many different styles, backgrounds, cultures and experiences.

“It wasn’t just the technique they used but I also wanted to work with creatives of all ethnicities, experience, ages, genders and from all around the world,” said Gerard. “It was such an honor to be able to work with an unbelievable graffiti artist from Haiti and an amazing watercolor painter from Australia — from Taiwan to Italy and all over the US. I learned so much during this journey about art but also about myself. Most of the people who developed these pieces with me never even talked over the phone with me, we either emailed or messaged each other. With some their first language was not even English.”

Foote also talked about the ways the experience deepened both his skills and inspiration, saying, “From this I kind of got inspired to go off and do a bunch of illustrations on NBA player nicknames on my own. Doing this helped me kind of dive into 3-D more, it helped me branch out and get better as an artist.”

“Basketball art can have more possibility,” said Yu-Ming Huang, who worked with Gerard on the Raptors illustration, explaining how art allows a deeper connection with basketball for both fans and the artists who create it. Almost every artist who spoke with The Step Back for this story mentioned their own fandom and how it has driven their own creative and artistic ventures.

The series is over but the world of basketball art continues to be rich and ever evolving. For Gerard, it’s just one piece of an ongoing venture.

“I see other artists as family as well and I hope this series can help inspire them. I’ve hustled a lot in my career and I have also been lucky but I certainly know how it feels to be a struggling artist. All I can say is you never know who’s watching, the more art you put out into the world the more likely your ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ moment will find you. So keep creating art, keep posting, keep hustling and keep collaborating… and always strive for greatness!”

The artists of #nbacollab

Elliot Gerard — All 30
John Boyce — Cavaliers, Celtics
Joe Till — Bucks
Lee Olsen — Pelicans
Jack Perkins — Spurs
Addison Foote — Trail Blazers
William McArdle — Mavericks
Yu-Ming Huang — Raptors
Ostertag Made Me Do It — Jazz
Michael Walchalk — Suns
M. Brian Bowens — Lakers
Mattia Iurlano — Pacers
Olivier A. Ganthier — Rockets
Nick Jacoy — Kings
Bobby Bernethy — Timberwolves
Nathan Lee – Magic
Ryan Simpson — Warriors
Austin Gilmore — Nuggets
Dan Abrams — Knicks
Zachary Alan Rorick — 76ers
Stephanie Lagakis — Hornets
Avery Owens — Grizzlies
Pat D’Angelo — Thunder
Kat Cooper — Pistons
John Luongo — Nets
Kwasi Amankwah — Hawks
Chris Bastian — Heat
Peter Richter — Bulls
Teddy News — Wizards
Jeremy Rathjen — Clippers