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Wacky World of Rubber: Artist Blake McFarland pays tribute to Goodyear's basketball history

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Photo by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company To celebrate the century milestone, Goodyear and the Cavaliers unveiled two life-sized tire sculptures. The tire sculptures depict a 1918 Wingfoots player in historic attire next to a 2018 Cavs player, and will be stationed in the concourse at Quicken Loans Arena through the 2018-19 season.

There's something about LeBron James in an L.A. Lakers uniform that will be never feel quite right.

No matter where he goes he'll always be "a kid from Akron," a Cleveland Cavalier, wearing the wine-and-gold No. 23 jersey with the Goodyear Wingfoot logo just above his heart.

He is from Akron, after all.

Maybe that's why the partnership between the Cavs and Goodyear always felt natural. The company logo on the team's uniforms doesn't feels trite, it feels personal. Because as much as the Wingfoot logo represents one of the most recognized tire brands in the world, it also represents my city—my home—and the pride that so many have in their hometowns.

The golden Wingfoot logo that still graces the front of the Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms belongs on the NBA court for other reasons as well. That logo has a historic connection of its own to game.

Goodyear's Wingfoot logo debuted on a basketball jersey more than 100 years ago, featured prominently on the uniforms of the Akron Wingfoots, a recreational basketball team comprised of Goodyear associates. The team used on-court competition as a way to test the rubber soles of athletic shoes, according to the tire maker.

Photo by Goodyear The Akron Wingfoots were founded in 1918 by the workers at Goodyear to test rubber in the soles of athletic shoes.

At that time, the Goodyear Wingfoots would compete against rival companies, using the chance to compete as a way to unwind. In time, though, the rivalries intensified and the teams began signing players from outside their respective organizations, leading, Goodyear said, to the formation of one of the earliest professional basketball leagues in the country.

Eventually, the Wingfoots became part of the National Basketball League, and the team won its first professional championship in 1938.

In recognition of the Wingfoots now 100-year history, Goodyear commissioned artist Blake McFarland to create two life-sized tire sculptures of basketball players. The statues, made of Goodyear tires and polyurethane foam, depict one player wearing a 1918 Wingfoots uniform, the other wearing a 2018 Cavs uniform. They will remain on display at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs' home court, throughout the 2018-19 season.

This isn't the first time that McFarland has teamed up with the Akron-based tire maker to create public works of art in tribute moments in sports history. Each of the last two years, he and a small team of supporting artists have created sculptures depicting the mascots of the teams playing in the Cotton Bowl, the college football bowl game sponsored annually by Goodyear.

While he has the full support of Goodyear throughout the process, the biggest challenge, McFarland has said, is the time frame he has in which to complete the works of art. It typically takes him more than a month to build a tire sculpture, but once the Cotton Bowl teams are announced, he has little more than two weeks to create two sculptures.

Art was a surprise career choice for McFarland, a pitcher who spent time in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.

He even found his art inspiration in unlikely places: An ugly painting of a koi that hung in his parents' home. It moved him to try his hand at painting because, he said, he "could do something way better than this."

He was right. What he discovered was a natural talent for art, one that wasn't confined to a canvas. His vision for his artwork was bigger, more unique.

Primarily, McFarland works with reclaimed items, mainly old tires. It was a medium he discovered after driving by a playground in St. Louis and seeing some old tires stacked in a design.

"I just thought," McFarland said, "tires is a material that is not used for anything today." So McFarland uses those tires for something: For art. For inspiration. For making a statement.

One of his most recent works, "World at War," combines one of his tire sculptures with trash he collected walking the California beaches. The piece, fashioned much like a sculpture of Atlas, is intended to show that humanity has the ability to rise above the destruction it has caused with pollution and preserve the planet for future generations.