In the late 1980s and 90s, basketball as a sport grew into a global phenomenon, gaining vast amounts of popularity through the likes of Michael Jordan and the success of his career. Around the same time, players such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Motumbo emerged from the game, paving the way for many other players from the African diaspora to also make a name for themselves. Since then, basketball has grown significantly on the African continent and the relationship between basketball, and the identity of those who belong to the African diaspora, has too.
In turn, photographer Joshua Kissi highlights the relationship between young Africans in America, and from the diaspora, through basketball. As a child, he was always interested in family albums, looking through pictures of his family’s migration from Ghana to New York City, and whatever else came in between. “My cultural difference was something that always stood out to me when growing up,” he tells It’s Nice That. “As a kid, I quickly realised that certain customs at home were different from my peers, whether that was language, food or attire.” But instead of hiding these differences, Joshua embraced these cultural contrasts, dedicating his career to telling stories through art, bridging that gap.
Most recently, he’s collaborated with Sunday School Creative’s founding director Josef Adamu for a new series titled Jump Ball. Intertwining Josef’s Nigerian heritage with Joshua’s Ghanaian, the pair communicated over WhatsApp (between New York and Toronto) to deliver the emotive shoot, shedding light on Harlem’s inhabitants and the cultural importance of basketball.
“When we truly think about African Americanness, or Blackness in the West, from hip hop to fashion, basketball is at the centre of the conversation,” says Joshua. “I think it’s safe to say that Michael Jordan’s shoes and Nike are one of the pillars of streetwear or fashion. Whether you admired Michael’s ability to win games, or the design of the shoes, the sport was always able to grab your interest.”
A long term enthusiast of the game, Joshua spent several summers focusing on improving his basketballs skills and playing with his friends in the Bronx. For the photographer, the sport not only offers skills and an insight into culture, it also provides a number of life lessons. For instance, identity, community, leadership and accountability, just to name a few. Delving into these themes through a striking shoot, Jump Ball explores the migration story through the perspective of the basketball community. “People are always migrating from one country to another,” adds Joshua, “and I always find it interesting in what they choose to leave behind culturally, and choose to take with them to their new respective countries.”
Though gentrification has posed as a long term threat to several communities around the world, including Harlem’s, “it will always be looked at as the Black Mecca of the world,” says Joshua. “Whether you’re African, American American, Caribbean American, or of the diaspora, it’ll always feel like home.” Though gentrification and other external forces may change our surroundings beyond the control of the communities, luckily, for Joshua, “the overall feeling of Harlem is still very much present.” Crucially, the one constant in New York is change, and Jump Ball hints to through the myriad of scenes, culture and colours that come together in this beautiful shoot.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.