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MECCA Basketball Court Bounces Back to Life As Art Exhibit

If you’re more than 35 years old, and you grew up watching sports in Milwaukee, you probably have memories of an iconic basketball court at the MECCA arena - now the U.S. Cellular Arena.Its playing surface didn’t look like other basketball courts. It was designed and painted by Robert Indiana, the artist who designed the famous “Love” postage stamp.

"Robert Indiana was one of the pioneers of the pop movement with Warhol and Lichtenstein," says Ben Koller, whose part of a group working to preserve the court. "We in 1977 had an opportunity to convince him to come to Milwaukee and design our basketball court, that became his largest piece of art, and also became the largest pop art painting, still to this day."

Indiana sought to channel Milwaukee's innovation, risk-taking and spirit of being different in creating his design, Koller says. The only all-painted professional sports floor in existence, it features the colors of the Milwaukee Bucks (red and green) and the Marquette University basketball team (blue and gold), and had orange hues to help players transition from the surrounding maple flooring.

Credit Our MECCA Group Facebook
Pop artist Robert Indiana poses on his creation, the MECCA basketball court. It would be his largest work and the largest pop art painting in existence still today.

The design also featured six M's that stand for Milwaukee, Mecca, the Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette, Steve Marcus (who created the idea for a unique court floor), and Robert's mother who inspired his artwork.

The court was played on by the Bucks and the Marquette University basketball team until both moved to the Bradley Center in the 1980s. The court then disappeared from public view.

But tonight, it returns for a single night’s appearance at the U.S. Cellular Arena. Koller and other owners of the court – who call themselves Our MECCA Group – plan to turn the court into an evolving art exhibit.

Another member of the group Andy Gorzalski says it's not just about preserving a piece of art history - it's also about preserving Milwaukee sports history.

"For me, being a Milwaukee kid in the '80s, the Bucks were my Beatles," he says. "They were always winning. Going to the MECCA Arena was a hard ticket, and it was very special when you got to go to them...The places where we had those experiences become emotionally important for us.

"Even as a child, I remember the golden glow of the floor, and we had great teams and these epic battles."

The art exhibit that uses parts of the court will open at Milwaukee City Hall on September 20th.

More of the interview with Our MECCA Group's Ben Koller and Andy Gorzaski.

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