The Bulls lent their voices in support of Black Lives Matter — the movement and statement — with the debut of a new mural draped in front of the Advocate Center windows Friday morning.
Created by muralist Langston Allston and curated by Bulls creative partner All Star Press Chicago, the 33-by-24-foot piece hangs alongside the team’s six championship banners on the north side of the facility, facing West Madison Street. The mural also features small homages to the Bulls’ history, including a 1996 championship shirt and 1997 championship ring.
Though Allston is based in New Orleans, he said he has Chicago ties through family and friends and often spends summers in the city. He journeyed up in May as part of a road trip after being marooned in New Orleans during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and first linked with the Bulls for a fundraiser in July to benefit My Block, My Hood, My City.
“This summer has just been kind of a whirlwind summer with all the protests and all the unrest and all the movement happening in the city,” he said. “I've been protesting a lot. And I guess a lot of people saw the work and responded well to it which is kind of what led me to the Bulls.”
Allston said he’s been actively involved in the movement for Black lives through his art since 2014 — specifically, after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old Black man. As many do, he started muraling through painting in public spaces, and has worked his way up to working full time as an artist for the last five-to-six years.
As for his message? It hasn’t much changed since he started out. “With the Bulls mural, it has a Black Lives Matter sign and it’s really giant, so the messaging is clear,” he added.
But shifting his style to more intensive “color-blocking” has allowed him to increase his volume of work while succinctly impacting passers by. He honed that approach by canvassing boarded storefronts, such as the one linked above, during the summer months. The Bulls mural, he put together on his iPad in the span of about a week from his home in New Orleans, then pinged it back to the team to be printed and adhered in Chicago.
“I think we're in a uniquely dark situation and things look pretty bleak. But I think that if I'm going to be making large-scale public art, then part of the responsibility that comes with that is presenting people with a way to at least imagine a brighter future. And so that's what I'm trying to do with the work,” Allston said. “There's enough dark things to look at that maybe I can focus on trying to show a little bit of light. Even if it is difficult.”
After George Floyd, another unarmed Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May, Nancy and Michael Reinsdorf (on behalf of the Bulls) released a statement that condemned racism in all its forms, expressed condolences for the families of those killed due to police and racist violence in 2020, and both called for and committed to affecting change.
The statement did not include specific references to projects or donations in the works, or a condemnation of police violence.
Since that time, the Bulls have made Election Day a company-wide holiday, launched a litany of voter awareness and registration initiatives, and have said they are working to make the United Center a polling place for the 2020 General Election. NBA owners also committed $300 million towards a foundation dedicated to economically empowering Black communities in August.
The NBA restarted its 2019-20 season in July. In doing so, the league and its players devoted space on the game courts at the Disney World campus and the backs of jerseys to (pre-approved) social-justice related messages. Players have used media sessions as a platform for advocacy — from campaigning for the arrest of the Louisville police officers that killed Breonna Taylor, to the recreation of the criminal justice system and more.
Days after Kenosha police officers shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, several times in the back, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the floor for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Aug. 26, prompting walkouts of games and practices in the WNBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, MLS and WTA, among others.
For a time, NBA players reportedly contemplated abstaining from the rest of the playoffs both in protest and to free them up to pursue concerted action in their respective communities. The league resumed play on Aug. 29 under the following conditions:
- Establishing a league social justice coalition to address issues related to civic engagement and police and criminal justice reform
- Teams committing to work with local officials to convert team-owned arenas into polling places for the 2020 General Election
- Creating an advertising campaign to be aired during the NBA Playoffs to promote civic engagement
Even distant from postseason action, the Bulls added symbolic support for all of the above with the mural.
Voluntary group workouts at the Advocate Center, where the piece is displayed, begin Sept. 21 — the Bulls’ first group activities since their season was cut short after 65 games.