One of the hallmark images of the pandemic was the sight of N.B.A. players sequestered in a bubble, in Orlando, surrounded by virtual fans. So the rise of the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, back home and playing with gusto on Mark Ulriksen’s cover, is a potent sign of hope. A new, historically talented lineup on the Nets—headed by Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden—and the emergence of Knicks such as Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are making New Yorkers proud. We recently talked to Ulriksen about his passion for sports.

You’re a big fan of basketball. Is there a lot of excitement about the New York teams this season?

New York has always been a huge basketball town. It’s one thing for the Nets to be doing great, with their new trio of superstars, but it’s the Knicks’ performance that’s thrilling right now. They had been pretty shambolic forever. But any team can have a bad half century.

You’ve done a number of sports covers and drawn countless athletes. Is it a challenge to portray specific players and make each one unique?

People are people, so portraying athletes is similar to other portraits—though with basketball players, the pants are much shorter! These three Nets—Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden—are a joy to paint, because their faces, bodies, and beards are all very unique. I do enjoy portraying bodies that are in motion yet frozen in time. I love the idea of a still image conveying suspended animation.

Is New York a good town for a fan? And do you have a favorite New York sports memory?

New York is a great town for sports fans. It’s as if Noah were in charge: you get two of every team in basketball, baseball, football, and hockey.

Speaking of pairs, I have two New York sports memories. As a kid, I loved the Knicks of the early seventies, and, like every other fan, I’ll never forget an injured Willis Reed hobbling out for Game Seven, in 1970, to help defeat the hated L.A. Lakers. Then, in 1986, I was in Manhattan for an illustration conference that coincided with Game Six of the World Series. I was pulling for the Red Sox over the Mets, and took in the game with a good friend from Boston at a local tavern. Every baseball fan knows what happened that night. We definitely drowned our sorrows in silence as ecstatic locals went bonkers around us.

You’re now based in San Francisco. Is the city opening up, and are there sports events that you plan on attending?

Yes, thankfully, the city is starting to open up. I do intend to take in some Giants games at some point.



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