I finally made my way to Salon 94 in downtown Manhattan to check out “For the Kids,” the exhibit of fantasy posters (“sports lithographs,” technically) from the archives of John and Tock Costacos, better known as the Costacos Brothers. Trey already let you know about the exhibit a little ways back, but in case you missed his primer, the exhibit is of a series of posters, mostly from the mid-to-late ’80s, showcasing star athletes of the time in staged shots that borrowed heavily from both the athletes’ public personas and the outside pop culture of the era to “make the athletes into comic book heroes … Hollywood action stars that kick the shit out of 20 bad guys always living to fight another day.”
Needless to say, it was awesome. The lithographs were fun, creative, detailed and unspeakably badass, accomplishing their stated goal of making the athletes appear larger than life. But the ultimate impression one gets when looking over these posters is an amazement that there was ever an era where this kind of thing could be pulled off. Forget actually getting these athletes to agree to appear in these ads, often in affected, silly poses that you’d have to think many modern-day jocks would consider themselves above — the licensing issues alone would make these things complete non-starters, not only due to the conflicts in sponsorship for the athletes, but getting the rights to the movies, TV shows and so forth whose likenesses give so many of the posters their comedic juice.
But perhaps just as importantly, a lot of athletes today don’t have the kind of outsized, cartoonish personalities that really lend themselves to posters like this. In the NBA especially, we’re at a historic low point for quality nicknames, as old favorites like The Answer and Agent Zero fade into the background, we’re left with a whole lot of D-Wills, D-Roses and D-Wades, and we decide it’s not even worth coming up with decent noms de ball for breakthrough stars Blake Griffin or Kevin Love. Players occasionally show flair on the court or in commercials or interviews, but often times it seems the league is so purposefully standardized that it’s impossible for players to show legitimate individual expression.
Then again, maybe posters like these weren’t designed just to reflect the athlete’s personalities, but to help form or perpetrate them. After all, nobody really called Dale Ellis “The Silent Assassin,” or referred to Patrick Ewing as “Madison Square Guardian.” The Costacos Brothers enabled these stars to assume these mythical personas completely independently from their on-court play, something athletes may not have the time or inclination to do anymore, but which makes these jocks so much more fun to follow and root for. So while the Costacos Bros may be out of business, and while these posters would be wildly unfeasible in the year 2011, I’ve designed ten of ‘em — and by designed I mean wrote out ideas, then let Trey handle a couple of these as I lack the artistic competence to do anything more advanced — that would help turn the NBA players of today into the 20-foot, ass-kicking demigods they deserve to be. In the highly misinterpreted words of Billy Joel, sometimes a fantasy is all you need.
1. FAST FIVE — Mo Williams, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan stand in the desert, in front of a number of classic muscle cars. Some brandish basketballs as if they were weapons, all wear extremely tight undershirts.
2. CLEAR EYES FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE — The top eight players from the Dallas Mavericks stand around an empty field in high-school football gear, with an eerie, almost apocalyptic-looking sunset in the background. Miss Universe is draped on JJ Barea’s arm, while Cristal Taylor chick looks longingly at Dirk Nowitzki from the side. Mark Cuban presides over all of it knowingly with his cap and sunglasses.
3. GRIZZLY MEN — Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, draped only in loin cloths, sit around a campfire in the wilderness, among a number of gigantic bears, either sleeping or laying about harmlessly. They stare at the camera like it’s no big deal.
4. WOLF GANG — Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley lounge about in a skate park in California, dressing eclectically aside from the fact that all are wearing Timberwolves hats. Some are skating, some are laughing uproariously at nothing in particular, some are motioning threateningly at the camera.
5. THE DURANTULA — Kevin Durant drives to the hoop unfettered during a streetball game. The reason he is unfettered is because the other team’s defenders are scattered about the court, writhing as they attempt to extricate themselves from the spiderweb nets they are trapped in.
6. MAD MEN — Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, dressed immaculately and taking long drags from their cigarettes, lounge about comfortably in an upscale office. Their secretaries (played by Ciara and LaLa Vasquez), wearing low-cut, tight-fitting pink and orange dresses, are pouring them tall glasses of scotch.
7. TWO AND A HALF PLAYERS — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, wearing Heat jerseys over their tuxedos, lean into opposite sides of a microphone. Chris Bosh, dressed the same way, comes sneaking in between the two from the background.
8. EMPIRE STATE OF MIND — In a panoramic black-and-white shot, Deron Williams stands with his fitted Yankee cap in front of the construction site for the Barclays Center. He looks approving, as behind him, Kris Humphries plunks away at his piano.
9. DEMAR — A cluttered crime scene on the basketball court, in which a player lies motionless on the ground next to a basketball, as if the recipient of a particularly fatal posterization. DeMar Derozan, wearing gloves, a camera and a Toronto Metro homicide badge, pretends to be analyzing the scene, but looks winkingly at the camera. The caption is in messy red text.
10. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA — Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand sit around a dingy-looking bar, drinking and possibly harmonizing. Behind them, a green-tinted Hip Hop prances about and tries to get attention.
The “For the Kids” exhibit is still open for the rest of July. If you’re in the New York area, you gotta make it down there.