LeBron James museum adorned with a Stark County artist’s mural

Photo of LeBron James mural by Stark County artist.

Caught in a moment of inspiration, Stark County artist Dirk Rozich found himself immersed in the creation of images portraying the global sports icon LeBron James. While working on a trio of 28-by-20 inch paintings, each slated to become murals at the LeBron James’ Home Court museum in Akron’s House Three Thirty, Rozich reflected on the emotional journey. “It was very emotional when I finished the first painting,” he revealed. “I think that’s when it struck me what I was doing. I thought, ‘Wow.'”

Acknowledging the weight of the task, Rozich conveyed a subtle sense of intimidation owing to LeBron James’s legendary status. Contemplating the pressure to craft a mural befitting the celebrity and his museum, he commented, “There was a bit of intimidation because it is LeBron James. I can’t think of a professional athlete in the world bigger than LeBron.”

Dirk Rozich introduces ‘The Guarantee’: ‘Broadway Joe’ adds a touch of style to the Super Bowl III mural dedication.

The narrative of how Dirk Rozich came to paint LeBron James is fascinating. Initially invited to create a mural for the facility’s parking deck, the LeBron James Foundation was so impressed with Rozich’s prior work, including a commissioned portrait of former President George W. Bush, that they commissioned a detailed mural inside. Motivated by the foundation’s community-driven mission, Rozich willingly took on the project.

“For me, sometimes the significance of the work outweighs the paycheck,” he noted. “And this was certainly one of those projects.”

House Three Thirty, a versatile facility offering entertainment and community programs such as job training and family financial planning, is associated with the I Promise School established by James within Akron Public Schools.

The LeBron James’ Home Court museum, located on the lower level of the renovated building (formerly Tangier) and described as an immersive multimedia experience, officially opened in late November. Rozich expressed his satisfaction in contributing to the institution, stating, “It turned out absolutely great, and I’m very honored to have played a small part in the establishment of this institution (House Three Thirty and the museum).”

Entitled “The Kid. The King. The One,” Rozich’s three-piece mural depicts various phases in the life of Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James. Showcased at House Three Thirty, it stands proudly at the entrance to the LeBron James museum.

Nicholas Lopez, creative director for the LeBron James Family Foundation, stressed that House Three Thirty reflects James’ commitment to Akron and Northeast Ohio, serving as a draw for people both locally and beyond.

“He continues to chase the dream of making Akron a destination for everyone,” Lopez added.

Lopez characterized the House Three Thirty complex as a hub of inspiration, motivating individuals to envision grand possibilities not only in their homes but also in their businesses and communities. The facility hosts family movie days and performances, such as comedian George Wallace on January 12-13. Rozich, specializing in realistic illustration, has been a dedicated artist since 2014.

Originally from the Alliance area and a graduate of West Branch High School in 1999, Rozich has contributed murals to ArtsinStark’s NFL-themed outdoor installation, “The ELEVEN,” situated in downtown Canton. Prominent works in Canton include a mural featuring Joe Namath outside the Canton Museum of Art and another portraying NFL founders Ralph Hay and Jim Thorpe.

Rozich has also created football-themed artwork for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His painting of President George W. Bush was a tribute to the president, who received the 2021 Ambassador of Golf Award at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship.

Selected through a competitive process by the city of Canton, Rozich was tasked with creating art on utility boxes at around twelve downtown locations and participating in a mural project on Court Avenue.

The utility pole initiative incorporates local themes, highlighting celebrities connected to Canton, such as Macy Gray, The O’Jays, and hip-hop artist Trippie Redd. Rozich also digitally designed a wrap for PGA Hall of Fame member Renee Powell, which was printed on vinyl and installed at Canton Central Catholic High School.

Though primarily recognized as an athletic illustrator, Rozich’s LeBron mural, titled “The Kid. The King. The One,” signifies a progression in his artistic journey. Reflecting on the experience, he remarked, “It was quite enjoyable; I had the opportunity to showcase various facets of an athlete beyond their skills with a ball in hand.”

How did Rozich bring the LeBron masterpiece to fruition?

Rozich’s three-piece mural at the LeBron museum was carefully constructed using a curated selection of photographs that captured various significant moments and achievements throughout James’ life and career.

In collaboration with the foundation staff, Rozich meticulously reviewed more than 100 photographs to decide which ones would be recreated for the comprehensive mural. These pivotal moments include the night James was selected as the No. 1 overall NBA pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, his first professional slam dunk, James’ accomplishments with Olympic gold medals, and an image of James outside the I Promise School.

Lopez expressed, “It genuinely encapsulates the essence of what the (museum signifies),” emphasizing that it serves as a visual journey through LeBron’s life.

The Cavaliers’ championship victory with LeBron held a special significance for Rozich.

“When LeBron showed his emotions, we all experienced that moment together,” he remarked, referring to the emotional response of Cleveland sports fans. “I was fervently cheering alongside everyone else in Northeast Ohio. That was probably the most connected I’ve ever felt to a sports championship.”

Rozich detailed the process of sketching and painting each collage of images for the mural, mentioning that the individual panels underwent three to four iterations before reaching completion. A total of 14 portraits of LeBron were crafted for the mural, representing the highest number Rozich has ever produced of the same individual.

In describing the technique employed, he explained that each of the three original paintings was executed using a watercolor wash with acrylic paint overlaid. The vibrant colors were achieved by applying multiple layers of thinned paint, Rozich clarified.

Following professional photography, the paintings underwent digital scanning at a high resolution, enlargement, and were ultimately printed on vinyl. The printed images were then installed as a wrap on three walls surrounding the steps leading down to the LeBron museum. Despite the success of this process, there were uncertainties and a degree of nervousness about how the smaller artwork would translate at such an amplified scale, Rozich admitted.

Another challenge stemmed from basing some of the painted imagery on early photos of LeBron as a toddler and young child. As older photos lacked the resolution and clarity of digital photography, accurately capturing the images with realism and detail became a concern, he noted.

Due to the ongoing reconstruction of the museum steps to accommodate an elevator, painting the murals on-site using scaffolding was not feasible, Rozich explained.

LeBron James expressed his appreciation for the murals, bringing a sense of relief to Rozich when he witnessed the unveiling during an early preview of the LeBron James’ Home Court museum. The museum features previously unseen items from the athlete’s life and career.

The expansive murals, rich in color and vibrancy, capture viewers’ attention immediately and continue to impress as visitors explore the intricate details of the artwork. Copies of the original LeBron-themed paintings are offered for purchase at House Three Thirty’s gift shop. Lopez clarified that the goal was to create something distinctive, serving as an introduction to a unique experience upon entering the museum.

He added, “… Dirk’s artwork sets the stage for what you are about to see and take away.” Both James and his mother, Gloria James, were pleased with the finished art, with Lopez noting their involvement in providing input for the murals and granting final approval.

The moment of seeing the artwork for the first time was exhilarating for LeBron, described by Lopez as an art connoisseur who decorates his home with artwork. During a recent visit with his Los Angeles Lakers teammates to House Three Thirty and the museum, several teammates expressed interest in obtaining prints of the mural to take home, as reported by Lopez. For Rozich, creating artwork of James is a particularly fulfilling experience.

“My (10-year-old) son is a LeBron fan,” shared the artist. “He’s very proud of his dad.”


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