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How a Charlotte-based illustrator (and NBA fan) is helping support those affected by the Australian wildfires

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Ryan Simpson joins Liberty Ballers to talk about his latest creation.

At the time of typing this, the wildfires in Australia have destroyed over 12 million acres of land, and claimed 2,000 homes and tragically, 24 lives. The harm caused to wildlife in Australia is frankly incalculable at the moment.

For passionate Sixers fans, this hits close to home. Ben Simmons is a native of Australia and Brett Brown made his bones coaching in Australia, drawing strong support for the Sixers from the fine people of Australia. Some of whom even interact with us here on this board.

With that said, I wanted to highlight a really cool effort to contribute to those affected by the fires that I think the Liberty Ballers community would appreciate.

Ryan Simpson (@rtsimp) is an illustrator from Charlotte, North Carolina who also happens to be a big fan of the NBA. If you check out his portfolio, you can find, for example, this piece:

Ryan Simpson | www.ryantsimpson.com

Ryan is currently running an awesome promotion on his site in support of two organizations contributing to emergency efforts in response to the wildfires, which we talk a bit about below.


Liberty Ballers: Your work features personalities from many different backgrounds, but there’s a sizeable portion on NBA players. What is it about the NBA that has inspired your work?

Ryan Simpson: Well I grew up in Charlotte in the 90’s. Like a lot of kids I played sports, but I particularly loved b-ball from early on. Back then MJ was my idol, as he was of just about every kid who was into hoops. He was entering his prime and was dominating the NBA in an electric fashion. There was no one cooler on the planet.

During that same time the Hornets, who were still new and exciting for the city, had just drafted two big time players as well: Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets also started to seriously be able to compete unlike they had before and made the playoffs for the first time in 1993. So LJ, Zo, and also Muggsy, were also extremely cool and influential to all the kids in the city, not to mention Charlotte had very unique colors, branding, and uniforms.

It was an amazing time to be a fan of basketball, particularly as a kid growing up when everything feels amplified. I have a strong nostalgia for those days and you can probably see it in my work. Growing up in that decade will likely shape what I respond to and create aesthetically for the rest of my life.

LB: My favorite piece in your portfolio is Joel 2, which features Joel Embiid with his Phantom of the Opera mask. You’ve also got two other Sixers pieces in your collection: one of Allen Iverson and one of Julius Erving. First, I’m curious if you considered depicting Iverson’s famous step over?

RS: I get a lot of requests to do iconic moments like that Iverson step over, the LeBron Wade alleyoop, etc. But I try to avoid doing known iconic images and instead base my art on a combination of multiple reference images and combine them into something unique. Really what I like more is capturing personalities as opposed to action shots, because that is a big part of what I think makes certain superstars unique and beloved.

Ryan Simpson | www.ryantsimpson.com

LB: Second, Julius is distinct from most of the other NBA player portraits in that the background is not solid color but a blue sky with clouds and a chain link fence. It reminds me of playing neighborhood pickup at the courts. Was there a particular motivation behind that?

RS: That is pretty much exactly what the Dr. J background stemmed out of. I’ve always loved the idea of pros going and jumping in pickup games with normal people, especially at iconic parks like are around Harlem. Dr. J may’ve been one of the first superstars to really do that, but I’m not for sure.

Ryan Simpson | www.ryantsimpson.com

LB: You’ve recently designed a pair of green ball shorts that feature the face of a koala. Could you explain the motivation for the artwork on the shorts and what you plan to do with the profits for each pair you sell?

RS: So I design some little sports mascot logos sometimes just for fun anyway. I did one of a Raccoon that I put on shorts just like these as a fun little experiment.

Recently I’ve seen the news of the horrifying fires that are spreading across Australia. I’ve heard that they are killing hundreds of thousands of animals, and the ones that aren’t killed their habitats are destroyed. Koalas in particular were already in danger of going extinct and they are an iconic animal to Australia, so I figured I would do a little logo of one and put it on some shorts like I did before to try to raise a little money to donate.

I made 40 pairs of those Raccoons shorts and it took me a long time to sell them, so I figured this would be somewhat similar, maybe I’d sell 50 or so pairs. But the response has been overwhelming and amazing.

Here is a link to the shorts.

Ryan Simpson | www.ryantsimpson.com

Here is a link to the shirt (which I made after people asked for one).

Ryan Simpson | www.ryantsimpson.com

All of the profits made on these sales will go to support the Wildfire effort. I picked these two charities, which I am going to split the profits and send half to each.


Big thanks to Ryan for joining me to talk about his work and this cause. If you can donate or support in any way, make sure to head over to Ryan’s site. He’s running a presale of the shorts and to be able to get them into production, he can only take pre-orders for another day or two. And be sure to give Ryan a follow on Twitter @rtsimp.