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The artist within Willie Cauley-Stein

From a young age, the 7-foot center has had a passion for art.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Center Willie Cauley-Stein’s time with the Dallas Mavericks has been brief. He’s only appeared in 13 games with the team. As such, who he is—outside of his tattoos, middle name legally being Trill, and ever-present metal briefcase—likely remains a mystery to many fans. It may surprise many that the five-year NBA veteran has a love for art.

The art bug bit him some 17 years ago, when the now 7-footer was just nine years old. It instilled in him an appreciation for creativity, which he often displayed with his wardrobe, and he’s been creating works of his own ever since—taking art classes all the way through college.

“I was always a doodler,” he told “I loved coloring books when I was a kid growing up, and my grandmother used to give me all types of coloring books and boxes of crayons and markers.

“Just from that, it sparked my creative mindset. And then she put me in art classes early when I was in the fourth grade. That kind of just sealed it for me.”

Even with the rigors that come with an NBA career, he’s made time to pursue his love of painting. He began watching Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting after joining the NBA. In 2017, when he was with the Sacramento Kings, he traveled to Vietnam and attended a painting class. It afforded him the opportunity to paint landscapes while he was there.

Much of his work, though, deals with portraiture, although he also dabbles in social commentary. He’s painted himself and begun a portrait of his grandfather. Celebrities are also a focus of his. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley have been subjects of past works as well as characters from comic books. He’d also like to do a series of basketball icons that inspired him.

“I want to do a Kobe [Bryant] piece, and I want to do a [Michael] Jordan piece,” Cauley-Stein says. “I would like to do a whole series – just a bunch of great legends that inspired me when I was growing up. It’s in the works.”

While he’s invested in his own work, Cauley-Stein also takes time to admire the work of others. A year ago, when he was in Dallas preparing for a game against the Mavericks while with the Kings, he took some time to explore the artworks on display at NorthPark Center.

On a tour of the expansive collection with the mall’s arts programming director—NorthPark features an acclaimed collection of modern and contemporary art with dozens of works spanning the 20th and 21st century—Cauley-Stein, who admittedly doesn’t have a strong art history background, was able to absorb the energy and magnitude of everything he experienced.

His desire to learn more is almost childlike. Foregoing the consumerism that engulfs much of the art world, Cauley-Stein is more interested in the how as he looks to improve and incorporate new techniques into his artistic repertoire. He’ll have ample opportunities to return to NorthPark during his time in Dallas, once they reopen—the mall is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is making things hard for everyone. That’s especially true for artists. While Cauley-Stein doesn’t rely on art as his primary source of income, a show at the Crescent Hotel, where he was going to feature one of his pieces, closed because of virus prevention measures.

With the NBA season on hold, fans won’t get to see Cauley-Stein on the court any time soon. As many across the country begin to shelter in place, they’re finding new ways to pass the time at home. They may even find a new passion. Cauley-Stein already knows his.

“You get lost in art,” Cauley-Stein says. “I think that’s the point—to try and lose yourself in it and just go with how you feel and just figure it out and see how it comes together.”