top of page

When baseball cards become pop art: Inside the Topps 2020 Project - ESPN

King Saladeen spent about a week putting his Willie Mays card together. Most of that time, though, was spent researching his subject. King Saladeen was hardly exposed to baseball while growing up in Philadelphia's inner city, indicative of a broader issue that Major League Baseball has grappled with through recent decades. He played basketball, touring the country on the AAU circuit, until a car accident at the age of 15 shifted his focus back to art.

For his version of the 1952 Mays card, which represented the first time Topps featured the Giants' legendary center fielder, King Saladeen displayed more of the contemporary abstract style that helped launch his career.

"All of the cards, I just want to add on to them," King Saladeen said. "I'm using the team colors to really make them pop because that original card, you wouldn't really know what the team colors were. It was really vintage, and you couldn't really see his hat much or his jersey. So I just wanted to bring those colors out."

King Saladeen, 35, started by blowing up the card for a 24-by-24 canvas, used paint-based markers and acrylics to create his design, cut up the different elements -- the name, the team logo, the portrait -- and configured the pieces like a puzzle. From there, it went to his digital team for resizing.

King Saladeen (given name: Raheem Saladeen Johnson) didn't know about any baseball players growing up beside Ken Griffey Jr., who transcended his sport in a way others haven't since. Project 2020 has forced him to learn about some of the game's other icons, most notably the African Americans who are now so strikingly absent from the sport. King Saladeen was struck by Mays' athleticism, but also his charisma and his confidence.

He hoped to convey that with his card.

"This just gives me another platform to highlight these guys and what they did for the world beyond baseball," King Saladeen said. "I'm inspired to be able to do these guys. My son doesn't know about any of them. He's 2 years old. And there's a lot of stuff that I didn't know that now I know that I can teach him and put that into the work and just always stay connected to baseball now. This has turned me into an actual fan."

Article by: Alden Gonzalez

29 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page