By Sam Catanzaro| LeBron James recently signed a $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. Soon after, a Kobe Bryant fan may have earned $300 for vandalizing a mural of James in the parking lot of Baby Blues BBQ in Venice.
Jonas Never, a prominent artist based in Venice, likes to paint murals that reflect what is going on in the world.
“My previous mural was a portrait of Anthony Bourdain right after he died,” Never said. “When LeBron signed with the Lakers, I knew I wanted to paint him to sort of capture the excitement surrounding his arrival.”
Never asked his friend Robb Aquirre, the manager of Baby Blues BBQ, if he could paint a mural of James on a wall in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“It wasn’t commissioned, I just did it for fun,” Never said.
Never completed the mural on Friday, July 6, depicting James in a Lakers jersey with the words “The King LA” written along the top of the wall. Soon after, Twitter user @BenOsaze of the Twitter page “Lakers Fanbase” expressed his displeasure with the nickname The King.
“He’s not a king,” @BenOsaze wrote in a tweet. “He’s not worthy of that nickname. He hasn’t accomplished anything for the Lakers just yet so why are we so eager to immortalize him?”
Then, in a since-deleted tweet from the same user, a bounty was put on the mural.
“I’m offering $300 to anyone who destroys this mural,” reads the since-deleted tweet.
The vandalism followed soon after, with “We don’t want you,” “No King,” and “LeFraud” spray painted over the mural, along with reference to James’ 3-6 NBA Finals record.
“He didn’t even do it for the love of Kobe [Bryant] or hatred of LeBron,” Never said. “He was just hoping to collect the $300 bounty someone put on the wall.”
The damage was manageable, however, and Never quickly restored the mural to its original, insult free form but a day later, it got vandalized again. This second incident proved to be the straw that broke the mural’s back as the damage was too much to fix.
“I didn’t want it to be left hanging all destroyed so I decided to paint over it,” Never said. “I’ve painted hundreds of murals and this has never happened. Some folks are incredibly loyal to Kobe or really filled with a hatred for LeBron.”
Never said writing “The King LA” on the mural was not intended to spark a Kobe vs. LeBron debate but merely a reference to James’ longtime nickname.
“It was never about LeBron vs. Kobe. The title stemmed from LeBron’s nickname, which is King. If David Robinson had signed, it would’ve said ‘the Admiral.’” If it had been Allen Iverson, it would’ve said the ‘Answer of LA’,” Never said.
The Twitter page Lakers Fanbase at the root of the defacement has since come out and apologized for their actions, claiming the since-deleted tweet was a joke.
“My tweet offering money to destroy the mural was a joke and I’m shocked that people took it so seriously. I received multiple death threats minutes after the tweet was posted,” they wrote. “I’m saddened that my tweet brought so much negativity.”
If James helps bring an NBA title to Los Angeles, Never is open to painting another mural of “The King.” Whether or not this will settle the LeBron vs. Kobe debate, however, is an entirely different matter.
“I’d paint him again but even if he won the title he probably wouldn’t even win over the Kobe supporters. I’m just happy the Lakers are relevant again and that the wall has gotten people talking,” Never said.
To find out more about Jonas Never, check out his Instagram @never1959.