Philly’s First Basketball Court Surface Murals

Jeffrey Tubbs was scrolling through Instagram one day when he came across a photo of a new basketball mural by the graffiti artist KAWS. Tubbs, a Co-Founder of MTWB, loved this image so much he was inspired to make it happen in Philadelphia.  With an enthusiastic YES from Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and Connor and the team at MTWB on board, less than two years later, Waterloo Playground in West Kensington is now home to Philadelphia’s first official basketball court surface mural.


Nike + KAWS basketball court mural at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Lower East Side, Manhattan, NYC


Tubbs reached out to Dan Peterson, the head of LA-based nonprofit Project Backboard that has led the creation of several basketball court murals around the country. Peterson was an early and steadfast champion for advancing the court mural project at Waterloo, helping us work through many details related to the design, engagement and product application.

Painted courts aren’t just cool to look at—they actually have a positive impact by increasing both the overall and diversity of usership as compared to traditional basketball courts. In a recent interview with ESPN Outside the Lines, Peterson explained that “[On painted courts] you actually get new types of users. You get more families out there. You get more young women and girls, who feel welcome and safe playing in these spaces.”


Project Backboard court mural project in Kinloch, Missouri painted by artist William LaChance


This ethos of inclusivity directly connects to an essential goal of the larger Waterloo revitalization project: to draw in new users and make everyone in the community feel welcome at the park. Edwin Desamour, Rec Leader at Waterloo and community champion reiterated, “We are also hoping that the new court will encourage some of our more shy kids to come out and play…We are hoping that the new court and the murals will motivate them to want to come out, put their feet on that floor, run around through the bright colors, settle in and enjoy time to play and be kids.”


Waterloo Basketball Courts before construction.


First game on new Waterloo Basketball Courts designed by Carlos “Calo” Rosa


As is the case with all of MTWB’s projects, big or small, many partners were involved. For starters, you can’t use ordinary paint for a court mural; you need paint designed specifically for athletic courts with a much grittier aggregate than normal paint. Steve Illes of Sealmaster helped us get these critical details right providing technical support and on-site product application training. Court paint is much thicker than regular house paint, and is applied with squeegees rather than rollers. This type of artistic application on a sport court marks a brand new experience and direction for SealMaster, as well. Illes said, “This is absolutely something we’d love to do again. Since I showed everyone the first rendering this has been something that we’ve all been just giddy about, like it’s Christmas morning and you’re 10 years old again.”

Once we had the community at Waterloo, Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez collectively excited about the concept for the court mural, and the technical support on board, we looked to Mural Arts (our partner for two previous park projects) for the art and design piece. Jane Golden, Mural Arts’ Executive Director, was immediately excited about the project, and enthusiastically recommended Carlos Lopez Rosa (Calo), a visual artists born in San Salvador and now living and working in Philadelphia.


Artist Carlos Rosa outlining his design on the court prior to color application.


Calo and project manager Corin Wilson represented Mural Arts through a community-led visioning process that started with a visit to our Waterloo Wednesday Youth Project Team Session, where Calo asked the youth “What is it about Waterloo that is special for you?” He then took those ideas and translated them into what became the final design. Mural Arts also provided technical support by way of their Operations Team led by Zambia Greene, and painting by Guild Alumni, Thomas Thompson, Tyreeah McCray and others. When asked how he feels about having his artwork on the ground rather than a vertical surface Calo responded, “I think it’s like the best way of doing art because it’s playful and fun. It’s like you use it. You use it for something fun.”



As to whether this idea marks the first of many more to come in Philadelphia, Tyreeah McCray did not hesitate, “Yeah, I actually think we should try to keep this thing going.  I think it will bring out so many people in the community.” McCray and Thomas Thompson both recently worked on painting the Oval this summer and have done a number of projects around the city including another project with Calo at Feltonville Recreation Center.  As to the impact of community engagement on the mural’s longevity Thompson feels, “It will last longer because they got a piece of it.”

The completion of this project marks the end of Phase 1 of construction at Waterloo Playground. We are very grateful to our sponsors who made Phase 1 at Waterloo possible.  These funders include Jaws Youth Playbook, HealthBridge Chiropractic + partners, William Penn Foundation, City Fitness, lululemon, LISC Home Court & the Mural Arts Program.  Phase 2 is expected to kick off later this year and will include both traditional and nature-based play elements, handball wall, pool upgrades, improved gateways and access points, gaming space, picnic areas and green stormwater infrastructure. Make sure to follow us for more real time updates!

– Claire Laver & the Team

Check out the drone photography from this project.