With the National Basketball Association (NBA) season just around the corner, the race to name the United States Sports Academy’s “Mr. Basketball” is heating up.

Balloting continues through 26 November 2009 to determine the name of the Academy’s latest addition to its new Sport Sculpture Park. The basketball player, constructed by Bruce Larsen, the 2009 Sport Artist of the Year for Sculpture, is a memorial to late Sport Artist Ernie Barnes, who passed away in April. He was the Academy’s first Sport Artist of the Year in 1984, and also won the award in 2004. Barnes’ painting “High Aspirations” was Larsen’s inspiration for his work, which includes a long-legged basketball player shooting a ball into a basket.

Less than a month into the balloting process, former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan leads, followed by Celtics center Bill Russell, a defensive ace who won 11 titles in 13 seasons, and late center Wilt Chamberlain, who had career per-game averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game and once scored 100 points in a single contest.

The websites of USA Today and NBC Sports have assisted the Academy in distributing the ballot to a worldwide audience. A list of 15 NBA stars past and present, national and international, has been selected. The winner of the balloting will have the sculpture dedicated in his honor. Voters may also write-in the name of another player if they choose. To vote, visit the Academy’s website at http://ussa.edu/ballots/basketball-player.

Larsen, a found object artist who creates sculptures from materials such as driftwood, rusted appliances and pieces of metal, now has four works as part of the Sport Sculpture Park. In addition to the basketball player, Larsen’s works include: “Arnold the Weightlifter,” which honors actor, bodybuilder and current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; “Borzov the Sprinter,” a tribute to Russian Valery Borzov, a great technical sprinter who won the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the 1972 Olympics; and “Nastia the Gymnast,” named in honor of American Nastia Liukin, the all-around gold medalist at Beijing in 2008. Future plans include a number of sculptures that will celebrate various sports.