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Jonas Never, the muralist who painted a LeBron James portrait in Los Angeles after the four-time MVP signed with the Lakers, painted over the mural Wednesday after it was vandalized for a second time.
Never spoke to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk and said he’s learned a valuable lesson.
“I thought I had learned a long time ago to never touch religion or politics,” Never said. “I guess it is never touch religion, politics or anyone against Kobe.”
The artwork, which featured LeBron in a Lakers jersey with the phrase “King of LA,” was widely praised. The detail of every aspect was incredible, and many Lakers fans took photos with the mural while it was up.
However, there was also a vocal minority (read: Kobe fans) who were upset by the sentiment. Online debate over who the better player between LeBron and Kobe was engulfed basketball fans for years and has only increased since the former’s signing with the Lakers.
“I got a ton of support,” Never said. “At first when we had the original piece, there was a ton of positivity, but also a ton of like pro-Kobe, anti-LeBron sentiment. [Some] people didn’t like it in general; not necessarily the work, but the sentiment that went with it. People had a big problem with the word ‘of.’ I get where they are coming from.”
Obviously, whoever would go out of their way to destroy a piece of art is part of a lowest-common-denominator group that does not accurately represent Lakers fans or Kobe fans. But when fans are going on social media and courting vandals with cash rewards, it’s clear things have gone too far.
“I know when to cut my losses,” Never said. “The first vandalism was made easier to swallow because, by all accounts from the Twitter debate [over it] that we saw, it looked like a guy offered up a $300 bounty to anyone who destroyed the mural. Some guy did it and posted video of him doing it and responded to the guy and said ‘Pay me.'”
Never said his next project is a Lakers team mural that includes all players—including James. We’ll have to see if grumpy Kobe fans can get over seeing LeBron in purple and gold long enough to keep that up.