‘Balling Icons’, history plays basketball

Interview with illustrator Elad Shagrir, the artist who makes basketball players Einstein, Bruce Lee and Mona Lisa

Human monuments, bright colors and a basketball. The illustrations by Elad Shagrir, a young Israeli artist, combine history and basketball, mixing them into fun and surreal game scenes.

Einstein, Bruce Lee, Marylin, Che Guevara and many others. Iconic figures represented with a bball, ‘Balling Icons’, intent in crossovers and dribblings behind the back.

We accompanied this gallery of unique portraits to a chat with Elad.

Maccabi and Euroleague, Obama and Michael Jordan. Discover with us this young talent deeply tied to basketball.

How and where did your passion for basketball begin?

I have always liked sports. Football, Basketball, Athletics and more. As a kid I would watch basketball games with my father, and in high school me and my classmates founded the first ever basketball team in our school. It was a great experience and our group of friends would have not stop talking about the NBA or Israeli teams.

Where do you live? Could you tell us something about the relationship between the Israeli people and basketball?

I was born and raised in Jerusalem which is where I’m also based today. The popular sport in Israel is football, but Basketball has a great deal of fans as well. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, which I’m also a big fan of, is considered to be the top team in Israeli basketball. In the early 2000’s Maccabi dominated the Euroleague and won the European title several times. While here in Israel we faced a harsh wave of terrorism, to many Israelis Maccabi seemed as an escape from the reality of war. Now, a generation of young Israeli players led by Deni Avdija, shines a bright light on the future of basketball in our country.

Do you feel more tied to European or NBA basketball?

I definitely feel more tied to European basketball that to the NBA. As an avid follower of the Euroleague I think that the European style of play is more fun to watch. Teams play hard on defense and the game is more aggressive. Plus, the atmosphere is much more vibrant and electrifying than in an NBA games.

How did the inspiration for the ‘Balling Icons’ series come about? 

I remember that the idea just came to me one day and the first thing I did was to make a list of iconic figures that I wanted to illustrate for the project. I’ve always wanted to create a series of illustrations and the ‘Balling Icons’ idea seemed funny and original to me. My goal was to make the icons look as if basketball was everybody’s secret talent.

Are there any particular meanings behind these works? Have you been inspired by any other artist?

In my opinion, art doesn’t always have to have a deep meaning or a hidden message in order to connect with the observer. An artwork needs to open your mind by showing you something that you have never seen before. My style of illustration went through several incarnations and I was definitely inspired by other artists along the way. Yet, I think that every artist’s desire is to be different and to have a unique approach to art, and I also share that desire.

What is the ‘Icon’ you feel most attached to?

The iconic figure I feel most attached to is Barack Obama. I think that besides him being the coolest president the Untied States have ever had, Obama is also an inspiration for millions of people around the world, even to this day. While political skills are important, a great leader needs to be a role model for it’s people and Obama was. Plus, he also plays basketball.

What do you think of the relationship between artistic forms and sport?

Any kind of sport is an art of itself. You can watch Michael Jordan’s highlights all day but an artwork can capture a moment in time and an added value to your experience. A painting or an illustration can make you see sports through a different lens that will make you appreciate the athletes even more. 

Do you have ideas for new series related to basketball or sport for the near future?

Right now, I’m mainly focused on the “Balling Icons” project and I’m planning to add more iconic figures to the series, so stay tuned!

Gianmarco Pacione


Elad Shagrir
IG @elads13

April, 18 2020

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