Tyson Beck is the graphic designer who makes the NBA look good

By Ciaran VarleyBBC Sport
Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant by Tyson Beck
Tyson Beck has designed the NBA

If you've followed any major American sport in the past 10 years, there's a good chance you've seen Tyson Beck's artwork.

The 31-year-old freelance designer has worked with the NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, MLS and UFC, as well as with sports brands such as Adidas, Nike and Under Armour, Panini, Topps trading cards, NBA2K and more.

And you may have seen his work on social media, including his tribute to Kobe Bryant which went everywhere after the basketball legend died earlier this year.

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He does all of this from his home in Adelaide, Australia.

We chatted to him about his incredible career, getting his first job with the Los Angeles Lakers at 18, some of his best projects, and how Bryant inspired his whole career. He also tells us about how being a workaholic nearly killed him.

Tyson's design work for the Lakers
Tyson's design work for the Lakers

"I first started playing around with Photoshop around 2003," Beck tells us, adding: "I would have been in Year 10 at the time."

At that time, the sports design community wasn't as big as it is now, with no social media, and Beck - a basketball fanatic - says he didn't think of it of a future career.

By 2006 he had his own website and was creating designs in basketball forums. By 2007, aged 18, he landed a job with the Lakers - the team he had always supported. It actually came about through another major NBA team.

NBA Finals designs
NBA Finals designs

"I won a magazine cover contest with the Phoenix Suns," Beck says. "They put your name, favourite player and favourite team in the magazine."

There was a hitch though: he is a massive Lakers fan and the two teams had a major rivalry.

"The magazine said: 'Look, we can't put that in, but we will pass your details over to the Lakers.' I was just like: 'OK, that's amazing!' Within two days, they contacted me and asked me to get to work."

Derrick Rose by Tyson Beck
Derrick Rose gets the Tyson Beck treatment

Beck started off making wallpapers for the Lakers website. Bryant, the best player in the NBA at the time, was his inspiration.

"Kobe was the biggest influence on my career from start to finish," he says. "He was the first design I ever did when I opened up a computer."

Tyson got to meet his hero twice - once in LA, in 2009, when he was doing some work on Bryant's website, then again last year when the basketball legend visited Melbourne. He couldn't believe it when Kobe not only remembered him, but said he was a fan of his work.

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"It was just a photo line, so everyone was pushing through," he says. "He started chatting to me and the security guard came over to pull me away. He stopped them. It was only a couple of minutes, but he kept asking me so many questions.

"He was like: 'Dude, I'm running an agency now, I've seen your work, it's amazing - how are you working with every brand in the world?'"

Given the influence Bryant had on his life, Beck says creating a tribute after his death was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

"I didn't want to make anything originally," he says. "I was a wreck. But I think creating something helped me with closure. Heaps of people told me that my art helped them through grieving."

Tyson Beck, LeBron James
Social media work for the NBA

Since going freelance 13 years ago, Beck has worked with all the major leagues in the US.

"For the past five or six years, I've done the branding for the NBA play-offs, NBA All-Star weekend and NBA regular season," Beck says.

As well as his work with the NBA, he also creates trading cards across different sports including baseball and UFC with Topps, creates memorabilia work with Panini and has designed basketball jerseys in Australia.

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"Topps are getting me to sign their trading cards now," he says. "There's trading cards that are on Ebay for like $800. It's pretty wild."

Tyson signs Topps cards
Tyson gets his own signature on Topps cards now

Beck is also pretty prolific on social media. One of the fun social ideas he had a few years ago was to put new haircuts on old players (and vice-versa). It blew up.

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In fact, he's convinced he managed to influence Dwayne Wade to get a new haircut after he retired.

"100百分比," he says. "He interacted with my original post. He had the same hair his whole NBA career and then after he retired he went back and got this style that I just came up with randomly.

"That was wild to me."

All of that is a lot to juggle and Beck has often foregone sleep to a dangerous degree to keep up. Between the ages of 22-28, he says he would be working seven days a week, on no more than four hours' sleep.

"I would've been working 100 hours a week, every week, minimum," he says. "Eighteen-hour days every day, at least. I wanted to save and do as much as possible."

That contributed to some issues, including two seizures.

"I've had some bad things, health-wise, happen to me - due to a lack of sleep," he says.

"I fell asleep behind the wheel twice and crashed my car. That was just from work. When that happened a second time, I was just like: 'No, this can't happen.'"

He's managing his hours and his health better now, especially with a young child, but he still takes his ethic from his hero.

"He was the best player in the NBA and was still the hardest worker," he says of Bryant. "He didn't settle. I tried to apply that to my work."

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