A couple of months ago I wrote about Kadir Nelson as a rising San Diego baseball legend that made the cover of Sports Illustrated without scoring a point.

That was the comment made to Nelson, a nationally renowned artist from Crawford High, by a former director of the Society of Illustrators when Nelson’s book about the Negro Leagues, “We Are the Ship,” was featured with an inset on the cover and an eight-page spread inside.

Now Nelson, 33, is bringing home a bronze medal form the 2008 Beijing Olympics two months before The Games stages its Opening Ceremonies.

Nelson’s painting, “Team Handball,” finished third in an international competition of graphics and paintings depicting Olympic sports. The third competition of its kind was sponsored by the International Olympic Committee.

Nelson won the U.S. competition to earn entry in the international level against 61 masterpieces from 36 nations. The painting he entered was one he created for USA Team Handball before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when he was still a student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

In the painting, a player rises up over his defenders for a shot on goal.

“I had to learn about the sport, a blend of basketball and soccer, because it’s not popular in this country,” Nelson said. “I watched a few videos of handballs games, and I wanted to depict a triumphant moment. In basketball that’s frequently a dunk. This was the equivalent of dunking a basketball.”

— TOM SHANAHAN

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