The last name of the accomplished coach and leader is painted in five, giant letters on a wall in the city that saw him rise from a childhood of struggle to college basketball stardom.
N.C. Central University basketball coach LeVelle Moton is seeing his life and those who helped him on his journey celebrated in a new mural on South Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh.
Moton, 47, says he wanted the piece to represent something his grandmother told him: “When you leave this earth and people remember you as a basketball player, you’ve done a poor job of living.”
“It’s an ultimate blessing,” Moton told The News & Observer in an interview. “It’s not really about LeVelle Moton, it’s about the people and organizations that supported me.”
Moton’s story is one of the hope and perseverance, he said.
He was raised by his single mother, Hattie McDougald, amid economic struggle in a neighborhood with drugs and violence in southeast Raleigh.
The mural is just a short drive from Lane Street park, the “sanctuary” where he spent his childhood playing on the court, which he told The N&O in June formed “the fabric, the foundation, of who I am.” The park was named after him in 2019, and he has since invested in fixing it up.
Focusing on basketball and his future led Moton to chase his dreams in Durham, where he became a college star.
Moton was one of the nation’s best NCAA Division II players and has won several Outstanding Coach and Coach of the Year awards, taking the Eagles to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament wins three years in a row.
But he didn’t to it alone. Moton said.
“I wanted (the mural) to serve the community, and I wanted the community to feel they had a helping hand and lending hand in that guy on that wall,” he said.
He has worked to pay it forward, investing in affordable housing near his neighborhood, and running the Velle Cares Foundation, a philanthropic effort to educate and enrich organizations that work with young people and families.
Moton said the basketball season has kept him too busy to see Raleigh-based artist Sean Kernick’s work in progress. But excited friends and fans have been sending him photos and posting about it on social media.
Talks with the city about commissioning a mural began before the pandemic, around the time his childhood park was named after him, he said. The Raleigh Murals Project helped to finalize the plan, which Kernick began working on in October and is supported by funding by the PepsiCo South Division.
The initial design was developed by Moton’s friend Adam “Azhea” Williams, an artist and designer who came up with an idea of a photo collage of Moton. He then pitched shifting the design to a series of collages: Moton’s family, his upbringing and the other people and places that shaped his journey, such as the Jones Street apartment he grew up in, and a logo of the Raleigh Boys & Girls Club.
It would have been unjust to exclude the support a poor child from southeast Raleigh found on his rise to success, he said.
Tasked with bringing the design to life is Kernick, using a vast array of spray paint cans to create the meticulous detail of the mural.
This mural speaks to this area, this community, in terms of someone who grew up here, has contributed to here,” Kernick said. “I think that’s a key component for murals to have impact, is for them to actually connect to the places where they exist.”
The mural, about 40 feet high, is on a wall connected to a parking deck building owned by McNeill Mays Properties and faces a parking lot owned by The Car Park.
It’s among the largest in downtown Raleigh and one of the bigger pieces of public art to use photorealistic elements in the area, Kernick said.
The centerpiece of the mural is the “T” of Moton’s last name, under which he’s painted sitting coolly in a gray suit surrounded by his trophies.
“Hopefully, kids and people in general can look at that mural and use it as purveyor of hope,” Moton said. “Even when times get tough, when adversity and opposition kicks in, they have to know that God has put them on this earth for a reason.”