LOS ANGELES – Some – probably most – people would be bitter if their personal work was attacked to the extent it had to be fully destroyed. But not Jonas Never.
His mural of LeBron James surrounded by the words “The King of LA” went up last Thursday behind Baby Blues BBQ in Venice, California, and was soon after graffitied with the phrases “We don’t want you,” “LeFraud,” “No King,” and “3-6” (a jab at James’ career NBA Finals record).
In response, the accommodating Never painted over the word “of,” which he thought would appease the critics. But no. Around midnight Wednesday morning, vandals threw paint on the mural, prompting Never to cover it up entirely.
“I’ve done 150-odd murals and not once has it ever been like this. I’ve definitely never had a bounty put on my wall like that guy did on Twitter with the first guy who vandalized it,” Never told Yahoo Sports. “And if that kind of stuff can happen, better it happen on a wall that I know I’m going to have opportunities to paint again, and better that it happened on a wall that only took a day and a half. If it had happened on a wall that took months, I would have been a lot more morose.”
While he credits the first incident to the Twitter user who offered money, Never doesn’t know who the second perpetrator was. But he has an idea.
“It could’ve been someone who waited outside Blaze Pizza for four hours in like 1,000 degree heat and never got his pizza, or never met with LeBron,” Never joked, in reference to the hundreds of people who unfruitfully waited for James in Culver City on Tuesday.
“So I feel like if [LeBron’s] wife hadn’t posted the donut photo, if he’d gone to Blaze Pizza and then gone to the wall, it all might have played out differently. But that’s neither here nor there.”
Never paid for this particular mural out of pocket – he knew how much James’ signing would impact Los Angeles and wanted to welcome him accordingly. He even had to persuade restaurant manager Robb Aguirre, a Spurs fan, to let him do it. But after the second instance of vandalism, he figure he’d cut his losses.
“Cleanup would have been too massive to undertake and I would’ve felt like an idiot if I spent that much time cleaning it up,” he said. “So I kind of knew on that one, and I started new wall on Ventura Boulevard on Monday – a huge paid wall. So I couldn’t really in my right mind tell them like, ‘Sorry, I can’t get to your wall because I have to fix the LeBron mural for the 14th time.”
The saga has drawn attention in the national news cycle for days now, but Never has only benefited from the coverage and what he describes as a “positive outpouring” of support.
“I think some people did it because they felt bad that it got destroyed; some people reached out because they liked the artwork and loved the thought behind it. I think some people just Like following the controversy,” he said. “So I definitely saw the social media blow up, and it’s pretty cool.”
“It’s opened up a lot of doors. I’ve had a million offers to paint LeBron on other walls.”
And where might those show up?
“If he starts winning, I’d love to do one closer to the Staples Center, and I know for a fact that I’m going to do the whole new Laker starting five at Spectrum Sports as the season nears. We just want to wait and see who is actually on that starting five,” Never said. “So there’ll be at least probably two more LeBrons I paint on walls before the season starts.”
It’s part of the bargain with street art that it could be temporary. Never knew that L.A. could just be a bookmark in James’ career, rather than a bookend. But regardless, it’s still one of the greatest athletes ever coming to the city of Los Angeles – and for anyone who doesn’t appreciate that, it’s your loss.
“By all accounts, LeBron is a great guy, he donates a ton of money, is still with his high school sweetheart; I’ve never really heard anything bad about him,” Never said. “I knew if I painted Trump or something religious that’d be considered controversial, but never in a million years did I think this would stir up so much controversy, and I get where they’re coming from. So I’m not too ignorant to not see both sides of the story.”
But he really did just intend it as a play on the nickname “King James.”
“If I tell you the story and you still want to fight us, then that’s on you,” he said. “And for someone to have that much animosity towards someone they’ve never met – and someone who’s never really done wrong – I don’t really want to interact with that kind of person.”
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