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The art of Ernie Barnes is forever immortalized in one of his most recognizable paintings. Barnes’ Sugar Shack, which graced the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, sold last year for $13.5 million. The art of Ernie Barnes and Sugar Shack, in particular, changed the way Black artists entered the lives of millions in Black communities around the world. Our favorite music was wrapped in collectible art and for many, the obsession of reading liner notes is where we learned the names of artists never before heard of during the days of only group photography as cover art.

Ernie Barnes was a game changer and what many may not know about Barnes is that in addition to being an art master, he was also a star athlete. His NFL career spanning from 1960-1965, saw him play for the Baltimore Colts, the Titans of New York, the San Diego Chargers, the Denver Broncos, and a short stint with the Canadian Football League, where an injury ended his playing career and marked the beginning of his entrance into the world of full-time artist.

Black and white photo of San Diego Chargers football players in 1961 or 1962
Ernie Barnes, no. 61 of the San Diego Chargers, in action. Credit The Ernie Barnes Family Trust

Barnes is an example of the possible duality between sports and the arts, making them mutually inclusive as art collecting has become a major focus for NBA rookie players, guided by Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown. Brown has partnered with Set Free Richardson to introduce art collecting to top rookie draft picks and teach them a little about finance at the same time. By gifting draft picks with art and encouraging them to develop a collector's muscle, players learn how the value of art appreciates over time, unlike other luxury items, like cars, that tend to be the focus for players who find themselves with suddenly swollen bank accounts.

Richardson is no stranger to the art world and is the perfect partner for Brown. Richardson’s creative advertising agency The Compound has long been on the cutting edge of creating bold and imaginative campaigns for clients that range from fashion, music, arts, and sports. Richardson also ran an art gallery from The Compound’s former home in the Bronx, and the fusion of all the aforementioned creative disciplines naturally merged with the culture of hip-hop. Set Free is also well known among the elite players with an already established nose for art collecting.

While the world of endorsements will remain an important element in wealth-building for sports stars, thanks to Jaylen Brown and Set Free Richardson, art collecting is gaining steam as a means for maintaining and passing along wealth long after players are no longer in the paint.


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