By Rahul Lal

Brandon Ingram, selected as the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2016 NBA Draft, is best known for his versatile game on the court. While he’s one of the centerpieces for the team’s bright future, he also has a hidden talent that he’s ready to show to the world. It was on display at the ‘Beyond The Court’ event hosted by Delta Air Lines and the Los Angeles Lakers which gives players a chance to show off their passions outside of basketball.

“Really, I had a passion for it when I was a little younger,” Ingram recalled. “I used to draw things in class, draw things when I was not in the gym or playing basketball, and then I left it alone for a little bit and picked it back up in college. I had the chance to take a few classes in college for art, and I wanted to pick an art major but never got a chance to decide. So I was able to pick a few things to tie in, like music and art classes. It’s something I like to do in my free time.”

After showing off his basketball talents at Duke University, Ingram moved to the NBA and has shown improving results with each passing month. While he has no regrets about his decision to go pro, he does regret not having more chances to study art at the college level. As part of his ongoing education, Ingram was paired with iconic Los Angeles muralist Jonas Never to create a piece that would grace the streets of Los Angeles.

“They gave me a good opportunity to come out here and work with a professional who’s been through years of drawing, being an artist, and just give me a chance to be out here learning different things,” he said humbly. “Jonas is great. He gives a lot of information about what he does as an artist. It’s been great just watching how he works and seeing some of his paintings — it’s way better than mine.”

Never has been creating fine art for a number of years now. He has designed famous pieces that hang around the Staples Center, the Lakers’ home court, and Dodger Stadium, and even created pieces memorializing sports personalities like Stuart Scott and Craig Sager. Never, who played baseball collegiately, has always had a passion for sports, and realized early in his career that the same passion which drove his athletic career could drive his art.

“It’s kind of like I found a weird, little niche for myself,” said Never. “A lot of artists are sports fans, especially graffiti artists and tattoo artists but for fine artists? You don’t really see much fine art about sports let alone about civic pride.”

“I’m from L.A., and it’s a really nice feeling to paint the people and teams that affected me. There’s something about being able to put your passions and your city’s passions on the walls… I found a unique thing doing public art having to do with the teams I love. Sports are pretty universal, and if you think about civic pride, like talking about a team victory, it’s a really, really cool experience.”

While Ingram admitted his artistic skills have a lot more room for development, Never expressed that after a long and lucrative NBA career, he could see Ingram turning to painting as his next career. Ingram grew up drawing his favorite cartoon characters and basketball players and has always been driven by that same sense of civic pride Never instills in his work.

“Brandon couldn’t have been more awesome,” Never said ecstatically. “He’s super-creative, he gave a lot of input and just like me being passionate about L.A. When I was asking him what he wanted to do, he was very proud of Kinston, North Carolina, of Duke, of his family, of his high school championships. He deferred the attention to the people who raised him and his teammates, and he was really, really humble and really cool. I really respect him for that.”

Ingram’s off-the-court skills aren’t often discussed, but his on-the-court performance is often a hot topic. Fans and analysts alike watched the 19-year-old start the season slowly, but come on strong lately. He’s finally displaying the all-around style of play that had the Lakers salivating on draft day. Since the All-Star break, Ingram has reached double-digit points in six games and often grabbed five rebounds or dished out five assists as well. With each game, Ingram looks more comfortable on the court, and the team is putting more trust in him.

“It’s getting better,” he said confidently. “I’m showing signs of being more aggressive, and I feel more comfortable on the basketball floor and of course, the minutes. I’ve been playing a lot more minutes, playing a much bigger role and just having a big opportunity to attack the basket and be comfortable at my position. My development has been pretty good.”

Part of what makes Ingram so unique is his incredible length, which has drawn comparisons to former MVP Kevin Durant. His diverse skill set gives him such a bright future in the NBA that he was named to the U.S. Select National team before even playing one game at the professional level.

The Lakers have had plenty of front-office drama this season with members of the organization, led by Jim Buss, being fired by majority owner and sister Jeanie. Laker legend Magic Johnson has since taken over Jim’s role as the President of Basketball Operations. Former General Manager Mitch Kupchak has also been replaced by friend of the organization and former agent to Kobe Bryant, Rob Pelinka. Ingram is supportive of the moves and excited for the future of the franchise.

“The front office is making the right moves, bringing in the right people in the right spots,” he explained. “[It’s nice to see] people with experience, people who have played the game, people who have been around the organization. It’s definitely some family tied into it but, as players on the court, we control what we can control. I think we come in everyday and work hard, we show our work ethic. We play hard, and ultimately we try to translate it into games. I think day in and day out, we just are trying to get better and better, and I think that the things we’re going through right now, they’re going to make us tougher and turn us into a better ball team.”

Ingram’s value for the future of this Lakers franchise, currently deep in their rebuilding project, can’t be measured simply by stats. With less than a season under his belt, he’ll have a large mural of himself adorning the streets of Los Angeles and will continue to encourage others to find their passions and chase them no matter what.

Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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