‘Cactus Basketball Hoops’ honor Indigenous community as Final Four nears

Four “Cactus Basketball Hoops” designed by local artist Paul Molina incorporate basketball and Indigenous cultures as the Valley prepares to host the men’s Final Four. (Photo by Justin de Haas/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – Arizona is known for its cacti, but not like the succulents popping up across the Valley recently.

Four “Cactus Basketball Hoops” – each with a unique design and standing 13 feet tall – signal that the men’s Final Four is approaching. One basket was unveiled on the Marshall Way Bridge in Old Town Scottsdale Tuesday, while two others will be located in downtown Phoenix and a fourth one in Glendale, near the site of the games April 6-8.

Two of the hoops, including the one in Scottsdale, were designed by Paul Molina, a local Hispanic and Indigenous artist. The NCAA contacted Molina via Instagram about creating the design and he worked with its marketing team to depict the connection of basketball with the Indigenous culture of Arizona.

“This particular piece, the cactus statue, represents the valleys here and also the higher elevation into the mesas in the Hopi areas,” said Molina pointing to the basketball hoop. “In the back of the cactus … there’s a bunch of symbolism (with) different designs and they represent the 22 federally recognized tribes here in Arizona.”

Molina’s young son plays basketball, so designing a cactus hoop for the biggest event in college basketball is something he appreciates sharing with his family. Molina has gone from a local graphic designer to an acclaimed artist with his work being put on the national stage, a gift he does not take for granted.

“I’m shaking right now,” Molina said. “Wow, this is a little bigger than what I thought it was going to be. Just looking around here, the thought and the process to go through and the (NCAA) marketing team and everything that they do behind the scenes. … I’m just like ‘wow, this is an honor.’ I’m really blessed to be here and all praise to God. That’s where I see my creativity and my ability to do these things.”

Advertisements for the big events that come to the Valley are normal, but the cactus basketball hoops showcase the message of the Final Four in a fitting way for Arizona with Indigenous designs on a cactus-shaped basket. The games will be played in Glendale, but Phoenix and Scottsdale are the big tourist destinations and provide plenty of attention for this art.

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David Ortega, Scottsdale’s mayor since 2021, knows the importance of big events like the Super Bowl and Final Four for his city. The timing for the Final Four works out perfectly for the community because the San Francisco Giants just finished spring training after spending the last six weeks at Scottsdale Stadium, so all the focus now turns to the anticipation and build-up for the Final Four.

Ortega is proud to boast that Scottsdale has over 960 restaurants and nightclubs as well as 51 golf courses, which ties into his pitch as to why fans should flock to the Valley’s east side.

“This is where the parties happen,” Ortega said. “We know the games are across the way (in Glendale), but we are where the activities are the rest of the time. We are a gracious host. You can come as you. Be who you are here in Scottsdale and enjoy responsibly, as we say in Scottsdale.”

It’s not just an advertisement for Scottsdale though, as Jay Perry, the CEO of the Phoenix Local Organizing Committee, anticipates the coverage the Valley will get from hosting the Final Four.

“We have a lot of goals for why we host these major events,” Perry said. “One is to get the worldwide notoriety. All eyes on Arizona in this case around the men’s Final Four, so it’s just an enormous commercial. My tourism leaders here say we can’t buy this kind of coverage to tell the story of Arizona.

“And the economic impact. We drive hotel dollars, restaurants, bars, all that tourism money comes in the week of the game, and we measure the economic impact after the fact. In the case of the men’s Final Four in 2017, it was $324 million. So this is big business, but it’s really showcasing Arizona on the major stage.”

With all the attention on college basketball’s biggest event, the fact that people will see Molina’s work gives representation to the Indigenous community. The Phoenix Suns showcased his work when they celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day last year.

Now he is the face of the artistic and uniquely Arizona Final Four features across the Valley.

Justin de Haas(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Justin de Haas expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. de Haas has interned as a reporter for the Walnut Creek Crawdads of the California Collegiate League and reported on the Arizona State women’s soccer and lacrosse teams for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network.