How Detroit Pistons fan's riff of Michelangelo's famous painting caught eyes of players

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Omari Sankofa II, Detroit Free Press
·6 min read
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In February, Mohammad Raiyn unveiled a Detroit Pistons graphic he considers his favorite artwork. Based on the reactions on Twitter, most Pistons fans would agree.

He called it “The Creation of Isaiah Stewart,” a riff on Michelangelo’s famous “The Creation of Adam'' painting. It featured Ben Wallace fulfilling the role of God, reaching his outstretched right pointer finger to Stewart. Wallace’s left arm was wrapped around Big Ben, a reference to one of his nicknames. In Stewart’s right hand was a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.

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Stewart, or “Beef Stew,” as fans have begun to call him, has captured the imagination of the Pistons fandom this season. Many have likened his game to Wallace, who won four Defensive Player of the Year awards while anchoring the “Goin’ to Work” team that won a championship in 2004. They’re both undersized for the center position, yet impose their will on the boards and thrive as lob threats.

The rookie might be the most popular player on this new Pistons team. And he has been a source of inspiration for Pistons fans such as Raiyn, who have found ways to capture the attention of his fellow fans and players alike.

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Despite the Pistons’ 18-42 record, this has been a fun season for the fanbase. Stewart, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Jerami Grant have exceeded expectations and given the franchise a clear direction. The Pistons will add another lottery pick this summer, giving the franchise a momentum it hasn’t had in more than a decade.

It has also been a fun season for Pistons graphic artists. Raiyn and Niranjan Anantharaman, a 15-year old sophomore at Bloomfield Hills High School who goes by @niranjangfx on Twitter and Instagram, have entertained fans and players with their artwork this season.

“Man, it’s so cool,” Raiyn, a 21-year-old Washtenaw Community College student who goes by @mrprodesign online, said. “I started on a Facebook group and I noticed that we didn’t have too many artists that cover the Pistons. So I started there and I went on Twitter and it was the same thing over there, and I was like, you know what? I know some tricks on Photoshop. I’m going to try to do some jersey swaps and some art that maybe some of these fans will appreciate it."

“I got some good feedback and a good response from Pistons fans,” he continued. “That’s how I got going on Twitter and I would mention them and I had a lot of success there too. It’s just cool seeing people with profile pictures of your edits and the backgrounds of your edits, it’s pretty inspiring. I’m not going to lie. It’s dope.”

“The Creation of Isaiah Stewart” was a remix of a previous piece of art Raiyn published last summer that featured LeBron James and a player that some consider to be his heir, Zion Williamson. The initial piece got more than 6,000 likes on Instagram. Once the Stewart-Wallace comparisons began to take off, Raiyn decided his initial template had untapped potential.

Raiyn started doing graphic design as a hobby in 2015, and began focusing on the Pistons a year later. A scroll through his Instagram reveals a variety of inspirations. There are “Semi-Pro”-inspired edits of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, photoshops of Oklahoma State star and likely 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham in Pistons jerseys, and various other riffs on NBA meme culture.

He didn’t think work would be seen by current and former players. In 2019, he posted a photoshop of Andre Drummond and Griffin dancing on the stairs in “Joker.” Both Drummond and Griffin liked it on Instagram, and Drummond shared it on his story. Raiyn also had a photoshop of Wallace as The Terminator liked and reposted by the former NBA All-Star himself.

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Stewart is tuned in with the Pistons’ art community. He followed Raiyn and Anantharaman on Instagram after both graphic artists posted artwork of him. Raiyn’s first interaction with Stewart happened after he posted a photoshop of Stewart in a classic Pistons teal jersey in April.

“I didn’t expect anything out of it, I just think I made it with him and the Pistons teal horse jerseys, and he sent me an emoji reaction on Instagram with the fire emoji and he followed me right afterwards,” Raiyn said. “And I messaged him back. I was like ‘A lot more fire edits are coming up,’ and he liked that. That’s pretty much it for that story. It was really cool.”

Anantharaman, whose parents owned season tickets when he was a kid, considers himself to be a Stewart superfan. He started doing Pistons artwork in 2019, but took a break until recently, when he posted a drawing of Stewart with a red crown on Twitter and Instagram in March.

The photo was posted by the official Pistons Twitter account a week later, and Stewart followed Anantharaman on Instagram.

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Picture design of Pistons center Isaiah Stewart.
Picture design of Pistons center Isaiah Stewart.

“He didn’t follow me at the time, but he followed the Pistons, so we talked through that,” Anantharaman said. “And then he messaged me, and since then, he’s kinda been keeping an eye on my work and I did another Isaiah Stewart drawing after that and he followed me then.

“It was surreal, because I’ve been in the Stew Crew for a couple of months now,” he continued. “He’s one of my favorite players that are defensive-minded, strong, physical, traditional player. It really means so much to know that he appreciates what I’m doing and it goes both ways.”

Anantharaman, born in 2005, was too young to appreciate the "Goin' to Work" era. But he’s a big fan of the current team, and his art has helped him become more deeply engrained into Pistons fandom. He has met many fellow fans online.

Since posting the graphic of Stewart, he has drawn Bey and Hayes. Like Raiyn, he never expected his art would take off.

For both, Stewart is the heart of this Pistons team. The fact he has shown both of them love makes their fandom that much better.

“I think it’s because he embodies Detroit,” Anantharaman said. “He works with that toughness and that grit that you don’t see a lot in the NBA now. He’s willing to fight for every rebound and block shots. And he reminds Pistons fans of those kind of older, more traditional centers that shaped the franchise, like Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Detroit Pistons fan's riff of famous painting caught players' eyes