Cincinnati business turns old basketball courts into fan keepsakes

Workmen started to dismantle basketball history in Newport, Kentucky, late last week. They were sawing, picking apart and taking up the 64-year-old basketball court at Newport Central Catholic High School. 

It's one of the oldest courts in Greater Cincinnati, and it's hosted all-time greats such as basketball Hall of Famer Dave Cowens, but its tradition isn't tethered to just one player. Fans in Newport will tell you about the Pangallos, the Brannens, the Sandfosses and the Dawns who provided great basketball memories wearing the NewCath colors.

Their court is now gone, but those memories aren't.

That's because the floor is being shipped to Artsman in Cincinnati's West End. Artsman is a relatively new venture that repurposes old basketball courts and finds unique ways for fans to own a piece of their school's basketball tradition. In doing so, it allows the school to raise funds to buy a new basketball court or upgrade the court they planned to buy.

"Every court has a lot of stories connected to it; every court, regardless of whether it's historical or a small school," said Artsman creative and marketing director Kelly Smith. "We're surrounded by basketball fanatics."

Smith and partner Chris Rose started Artsman a couple of years ago and had begun to approach high schools about their project when the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title.

That stunning victory shifted the business' focus. The Cavaliers wondered what could be done with their championship court from Quicken Loans Arena, so the fabricators, welders, designers and furniture makers at Artsman went to work.

They came up with about 25 products ranging from wall plaques to bottle openers crafted in some way using the Cavaliers old court. A hot seller is the cuff links, which have a wooden center surrounded by a silver band that tells the details of the championship season.

Storytelling is a big part of what Rose and Smith emphasize. Many of the items come not only with a certificate of authenticity but also with a small booklet that details the title chase.

That's important to Smith.

"You remember the details this year and next year from an event that just happened, but in five years, it's going to get kind of foggy and in ten years, it's gone," he said.

The keepsake and the booklet refresh those memories.

The project with the Cavaliers has produced new ideas and has allowed Artsman to gain some notoriety among pro teams, but it's still the high schools and colleges that Rose and Smith emphasize as their main focus. The old court at NewCath will provide them with a new challenge and new possibilities.

The slogan of Artsman is "Rejoice. Relive. Retell. Every Glorious Moment."

It's a great way to make a living and a great way to keep history alive.

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