I didn't catch this stunning image until this last weekend, when it showed up on Tumblr's basketball tag via the Brazilian hoops site Homens Brancos Não Sabem Blogar (loosely translated: White Men Can't Blog) after appearing on Miami culture blog The305.com and Hooped Up last week. A little bit of post-picking-my-jaw-off-floor digging revealed that this fantastic typographic portrait of Michael Jordan has been kicking around the Internet since late September, when Orlando-based digital artist Ziarekenya Smith posted his handiwork to gallery pages on the deviantART and Behance Network.
So it's not exactly new. But man, even in a world that emphasizes the next thing way more than the last thing, this thing is just way too cool not to share it.
According to an artist's statement accompanying the piece, Smith — a gifted 19-year-old who works under the pseudonym PhreshSoldier — draws design inspiration from the relentless pursuit of excellence that became Jordan's trademark during his career with the Chicago Bulls. The typeface illustration, which Smith says took more than four days to design and complete, features more than 20,000 text entries of MJ's numerous accomplishments, signature moments and quotes meticulously arranged into a sharp, evocative depiction of the Hall of Famer shooting a dagger stare at some opponent (or, possibly, teammate) just outside the frame.
The beauty of a piece like this isn't just the artist's talent for reproducing MJ's likeness; it's what the myriad details compiled and presented can tell us about Jordan and the way Smith (and, by proxy, legions of other fans) view him. Your eyes are drawn quickly to the "MVP" and "Air Jordan" entries that appear above Jordan's right eye, to the bending "Dominance" that traces his taut jawline, to the "Never Give Up" that arcs across his left shoulder.
Closer inspection of the larger, high-res image unveils some lines that carry major significance for others (as a native New Yorker, "Jordan so demoralizes Knick guard John Starks" doesn't feel very good to read), but barely merit mention in Jordan's body of work; here, the Starks narrative shows up just over Jordan's right collarbone, nearly tucked into his Bulls jersey. It's an acerbic little reminder — while the day you meet the king is an event in your life, for the king, it's just Wednesday.
Basically, not only does this look immeasurably dope, but if you're like me, you can also stare at this sucker for eons and still turn up new thoughts, emotions and theories. What more could you want from a piece of art?
(One bummer: It looks like it's only available for purchase as a 4x6 print right now. C'mon, Phresh: Get some poster sizes up there! I guarantee some of our readers would love to hang this in their homes.)
- Michael Jordan