West Haven team works to lure LeBron to New York Knicks -- with paint

New Haven, CT, July 3, 2010,  by Amanda Pinto -- A 17-person crew based in West Haven worked tirelessly to try to lure basketball star LeBron James to the New York Knicks, painting a mural with James wearing the blue and orange.

The group isn't made up of basketball insiders or team owners, but contractors and painters.

In preparation for the National Basketball Association's free-agent signing period that started Thursday, West Haven recreational surfacing contractors Hinding Tennis LLC created the mural of the two-time MVP — clad in a Knicks uniform — at Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y.

The court is now emblazoned with a 50-foot James holding a ball, and a blue-and-orange message: "Harlem Loves U LeBron."
The work was a labor of love for hopeful Knicks fans like Hinding foreman Steve Parri.

"I was just stoked; it's a high level of happiness," said Parri, who lives in Madison. "The Knicks had 10 years of just terrible basketball, and now we finally have the possibility of him coming here. ... Every Knick fan is excited for LeBron."

James, who has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers since turning pro out of high school seven years ago, is the most sought after free agent, with numerous teams vying to land him.

Tom Hinding, owner of the Spring Street contracting firm, said Hinding Tennis has a $450,000 contract with Nike to rehabilitate six outdoor basketball courts, including Rucker Park. Representatives from the park, home of the Entertainers Basketball Classic, contacted the firm Sunday about adding a mural of James to the planned court art, said Kristen Nelson, one of two Hinding Tennis painters who created the mural after the rest of the team resurfaced the court.

"They sent a picture, we kind of thought it was a joke and then we all sat down and looked at it and said, 'OK maybe this is possible,'" Nelson said.

The crew worked with a deadline of "5 p.m. yesterday," Nelson joked. There were four days between Hinding Tennis' receipt of a 2-inch sketch of the proposed design and the creation of the large-scale LeBron mural, said Nelson, who lives in Stamford.

She and fellow painter Erik Sabatelli worked vigorously — sometimes as late as midnight and other times dodging stray basketballs from children eager to check out the new court — and finished before nightfall Wednesday.

"It was really time-consuming, but it was really rewarding and really fun and I just hope LeBron gets to see it and appreciate it," said Nelson.

Hinding, whose 16-year-old business specializes in tennis and basketball court resurfacing, said if James does become a New York Knick, "it would be a great thing knowing we were a part of it."

Of course, if James decides to play for one of the other NBA teams courting him, that might mean more surfacing work for Hinding Tennis.

"We are laughing about it because if he becomes a Chicago Bull, we'd venture to guess they'd probably want to paint over" the Rucker Park mural, said Hinding, who lives in Guilford. "But to be honest, it hasn't come up yet because I don't think they want to jinx themselves."

But Hinding and his crew — half of them Knicks fans — are hoping they won't have to paint over James' mural anytime soon.

"All our Knick fans are pumped up for this," Parri said of James' potential move to New York. "We're ready to rock and roll."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Call Amanda Pinto at 203-789-5734.

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