Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The National Basketball Association has once again come calling for a Nipissing First Nation member.
But this First Nations person will not be dunking any basketballs or shooting three-pointers.
Jenny Kay Dupuis, however, will play a key role for a new facility that the NBA will open up this spring.
Dupuis was chosen to design an outdoor mural for the NBA Courtside Restaurant, a 10,000-square foot facility that will open in downtown Toronto.
The restaurant will be located at 15 Queen’s Quay East, mere steps from Lake Ontario and near the base of Yonge Street, one of the longest and most famous streets in the world.
Dupuis had previously worked for the NBA during its 2021-22 season. She was one of five artists who had been chosen as NBA Creators.
The program, which continues this season with new creators, sees the NBA partner with Microsoft to increase exposure of illustrators and graphic designers who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian, Hispanic or Latinx.
These creators share their commissioned arts and stories on various platforms throughout the basketball season.
Dupuis is thrilled NBA officials also asked her to be a part of their new restaurant, which will include indoor and outdoor dining, an exclusive retail space and plenty of customized NBA art and décor.
“I’m really thankful to have that presence in downtown Toronto,” she said.
Dupuis’ artwork will be on a mural that measures about 18 feet by 16 feet.
“I created a computer file that could be used to print a sizable wall mural,” she said. “I designed a canvas size digitally with the measurements that would support the printing at a large scale while working from a computer screen.”
Dupuis’ art that will adorn the restaurant wall is actually four images that are blended into one.
For starters, there are several youth that are playing basketball at an outdoor community court.
A second image tells the story of an individual who has been selected in the NBA draft.
Yet another image shows a human player who has transformed into a thunderbird, a powerful symbol in Indigenous culture which represents strength and protection.
And the final image features an NBA player who has achieved the ultimate goal, holding up the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, annually awarded to the league’s playoff champions.
Dupuis said this image of an NBA champion does not reflect any of the members of the Toronto Raptors, who were crowned league champs in 2019.
“It’s a very general image,” she said. “It can be any player really.”
The mural also contains animals, often depicted in Indigenous art. A giant eagle, spread across the top of the mural, connects the player's various moments in life. And it is also intended to represent the importance of relationships and interdependence among all living things.
“It was really thought out,” Dupuis said. “It took me a while to bring it all together.”
Dupuis is hoping her mural will provide inspiration, especially for those that are keen to somehow be related to a pro sport even when they are not able to play at such a high level.
“I’m hoping people will be able to see this and there are other opportunities that are sports (related),” she said. “Hopefully it gets young people thinking about things that are possible.”
Dupuis’ artwork will also be for sale inside the restaurant’s retail space. Her work will be sold on various NBA merchandise including T-shirts, mugs and bags.
Leah MacNab, the senior vice-president of NBA Canada, is glad the league was able to work with Dupuis again.
“We went to her first because she was in our creators program,” MacNab said.
MacNab believes the restaurant’s outdoor mural will create quite a bit of buzz.
“I do think it will cause fans to stop and read the inscription,” she said.
MacNab added it was important to include an Indigenous artist to have an integral role with the look of the soon-to-be opened restaurant.
“Inclusion and equality are values of the NBA brand,” she said.
The restaurant will be operated by Urban Dining Group, a Toronto-based business launched in 1989.
Toronto’s Erica Karbelnik, the winner of season nine of Top Chef Canada and season three of Chopped Canada, will oversee the development of the restaurant’s menu and also serve as the facility’s culinary ambassador.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.