Michael Jordan made his home debut as a rookie in 1984 not at the old Chicago Stadium but at a high school gym in East Chicago, Indiana, where the Bulls played an electric preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
MJ’s playing days, of course, are long past. And the school that hosted that game was torn down a long time ago.
But two murals that went up long after his career ended aim to keep the memory of Jordan, the superstar, alive in the northwest Indiana city.
“We wanted to make sure that what we’re putting up isn’t going to be something just random or some sort of advertisement,” says Felix “Flex” Maldonado, the artist who was commissioned to create them to “showcase something positive.”
Both murals, done in spray paint, show Jordan in his red Bulls jersey against a black-and-white background mostly of blurred-out fans.
The first was done in December 2020 on an outdoor wall of the Euclid Tavern, 3902 Euclid Ave., and spotlights the moment in Game Six of the 1998 NBA finals when a Jordan shot secured the Bulls’ second “three-peat” victory with seconds to go.
The second mural, at 2nd String Quarterback Sports Bar, 719 W. 151st St., was completed late last year. It shows Jordan in an iconic moment during his 1988 NBA dunk contest-winning performances over Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks.
Maldonado says he heard from someone who works with the Bulls all-time great and initially worried he was in trouble but was told Jordan had read about the mural, “and he was very happy about it.”
Maldonado says he painted the murals in “sort of an abstract type of style” to avoid copyright issues regarding photos of those moments.
“It was like a puzzle to put together,” the artist says. “If there was one shade off or wrong or some color wrong, that would eliminate a foot or arm or something that would have been noticeable from a distance. Because once you pan back or if you’re passing by, you actually make out the shapes and the people, the players and whatnot. But, when you get close to it, it’s just a bunch of blobs and circles and squigglies.”
Jordan’s also the subject of other murals around Chicago, including one in Pilsen, at 1629 S. Clinton St., where he’s pictured next to Bears legend Walter Payton in a painting created in the summer of 2018 by artists Max Sansing, Won Kim and Chris Chanyang, who goes by the name Royyal Dog.
“This was his first time in Chicago ever, so [Chanyang] decided to just paint probably the tallest Michael Jordan mural ever seen in my life,” Kim says. “Those are the two most iconic sports athletes, I think, in the city.”