Hoop Dreams, 2022
Cactus Moon Studio
In his 2018 painting Hoop Dreams, the rising Filipino American artist Mikey Yates imagines a scene based on his adolescent aspirations to play in the NBA.
The painting, set in a bedroom, features a younger version of the artist wearing basketball shorts as he lays on his bed, practicing his shooting form. The motion is so familiar, he can perform it without looking. Eyes closed, he dreams.
Light pours in from a window, illuminating evidence of his basketball obsession: Gary Payton’s Seattle Supersonics jersey; a youth league team photo; posters of his NBA idols from Slam magazine. Within this beam of light, the vivid yellows, reds, blues, and oranges of early 2000s NBA team colors pop. The orange basketball, frozen mid-rotation, is reminiscent of the sun, radiating light and energy, making life possible. In the shadows, muted blues, browns, and army greens fill out the frame. Hoop Dreams, now recreated as a limited-edition print through Cactus Moon Studio, encapsulates not just Yates’s dynamic figurative painting style, but a formative, personal passion, too.
As the son of military parents, Yates was born in Germany and moved several times throughout his childhood. Each time he moved, he brought this wall of fame with him. It became a means through which to remind himself of home and to feel grounded in an unfamiliar space.
“I lived in Seattle for a few years, then I moved back in 8th and 9th grade, right before [the Seattle Supersonics] went to Oklahoma City,” Yates recently recalled. “Moving, especially living somewhere like Germany, everybody is from a different military base in the United States. So, you kind of hold on to those things about your state or your place.…It was a way for me to connect to the U.S. while away.”
Yates’s tribute to the sport he loved was also a kind of vision board for the career he hoped to have. It helped him to picture a life beyond the base, one completely separate from a military life. “Growing up on a military base…everybody’s in the military, so it’s hard to imagine what you could do,” he explained. “The doctors are in the army, the priest is in the army, the vet is in the army; they all have army boots on when you go see them. We aspired to [do] big things, like professional sports, things you could see on TV, or being a musician.”
Taymour Grahne Projects
Emma B. Gomez Park, 2021
Taymour Grahne Projects
The phrase “hoop dreams,” popularized by the 1994 documentary of the same name, often refers to NBA aspirations that are improbable, and conveys a reverence for those individuals who weren’t able to make it to the league. As Yates realized the NBA wasn’t in his future, he also recognized that basketball, for him and other children on the base, still served a purpose.
“It’s almost like a distraction from whatever is going on,” he said of the game. “It’s a way to daydream. My base was heavily deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, so everybody’s parents were gone. We all had one parent deployed during war time.” Basketball provided an escape.
Ultimately, an injury sidelined Yates’s NBA dreams, but he set his sights on other, equally lofty, non-military careers.
“It felt so out of my hands that I got hurt,” he explained, adding that the experience led him to seek out a career that “you could kind of do your whole life.” His second dream was music. “When I was studying painting in school, I was also making beats with a band and stuff, and that kind of fizzled out,” he said. His third dream was art. “I feel like it’s still a way for me to kind of escape that 9-to-5,” Yates said. “The artist’s life is really appealing to me.”
Hoop Dreams uses basketball to illustrate the ways we cultivate our passions. Like Yates, many can relate to identifying an interest at a young age, and fully immersing oneself in it, plastering it across bedroom walls, in an era before Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Yates reminds us to consider how we create our own safe space, wherever we are.