LOS ANGELES — It was a seemingly impossible task to distill Kobe Bryant’s 20-year, Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers into one lasting pose, sculpted in bronze, to honor the basketball great forever.
And so Bryant’s family and the Lakers chose three.
The first, featuring Bryant in his No. 8 uniform, a finger pointed to the sky as he walked off the court after his 81-point game against the Raptors in 2006, was unveiled Thursday afternoon with dozens of Lakers luminaries on hand.
“Leave the game better than you found it. And when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.” pic.twitter.com/h58OKd7Ll1
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 9, 2024
“For the record, Kobe picked the pose you’re about to see, so if anyone has any issues with it, tough s—,” Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, said from a stage at the tented ceremony set up on Star Plaza outside Crypto.com Arena.
The bronze statue, which stands 19 feet high and weighs 4,000 pounds, is surrounded by five replica Larry O’Brien Trophies and sits on a black, triangle-shaped base — an ode to the triangle offense of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson and assistant Tex Winter.
The side of the base features a quote from Bryant that reads: “Leave the game better than you found it. And when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.”
In a modern twist, there is a QR code on the statue for fans to scan with their phones, leading to a Bryant highlight video narrated by Denzel Washington.
The planned location and the unveiling date for the other two statues — one of Bryant in his No. 24 uniform and the other with his daughter, Gianna, who also died in the 2020 helicopter crash — are still to be determined, according to a Lakers spokesperson.
“When I found out there was going to be three statues, I just said, ‘That’s fitting,'” said Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s longtime friend and agent who is currently the vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Lakers. “Because it’s just how the City of Angels feels about Kobe. He deserves something that no other athlete that’s ever played here deserves.”
Vanessa Bryant was the last of five speakers at the ceremony, following Lakers governor Jeanie Buss; former Lakers guard Derek Fisher; all-time Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; and Jackson, who coached Bryant to all five of his titles.
Jackson shared a memory of the game that inspired the statue — the second-highest individual scoring output in NBA history — that came in the same season when Bryant had outscored the Dallas Mavericks on his own 62-61 through three quarters and Jackson sat him for the fourth quarter because the win was secured and he wanted to save Bryant’s best for “another game on another night.”
“But the night he got 81, we needed all those points,” Jackson said. “They were running a zone against us, and we devised a little offensive system that would exaggerate Kobe having a one-on-one opportunity with either a power forward, a small forward or Jalen Rose. He ate that up.”
Vanessa Bryant attributed her husband’s finger-point as a forever ode to the fans of L.A.
“Also today I was just kind of struck with him pointing up to the heavens and just knowing that he and Gigi are in a good place,” Pelinka added. “The pose took on some different meaning there for me.”
Abdul-Jabbar, a storyteller just like Bryant, offered a thoughtful tribute.
This statue may look like Kobe, but really it’s what excellence looks like, what discipline looks like, what commitment looks like, what love of family looks like,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The statue is a wonderful contribution. It captures a person frozen in time, while at the same time acknowledges that the reason there is a statue in the first place is because that person is timeless.”
Fisher, who was a part of the same draft class and joined the Lakers as rookies together in 1996, spoke about Bryant’s acclaim growing before his eyes.
“In the realm of basketball, he wasn’t just a player, he was a legend, like an actual living legend,” Fisher said. “That’s what it felt like to be around him.”
Buss shared a quote from her father, the late Jerry Buss.
“Everyone who watched him play the game knows he did things on the court unlike anyone else. He was a scrapper, a fighter, a winner, and he was also an artist, and he could bend the world to his will,” she said. “I think that is what my father meant when he said seeing Kobe play was like watching a miracle unfold.”
The invite-only crowd included Bryant’s daughters and sister; Laker greats Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Mychal Thompson and Pau Gasol; former Bryant teammates Metta World Peace, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Matt Barnes, Mark Madsen, Gary Payton, Larry Nance, Josh Powell, Kareem Rush, Devean George, A.C. Green, Vladimir Radmanovic and Trevor Ariza; former coaches Del Harris, Jim Cleamons and Larry Drew; and other friends of Bryant from the sports and pop culture community in Russell Wilson and his wife, Ciara, Bad Bunny, Dwyane Wade, Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Jamal Crawford and Sydney Leroux.
The statue is modeled after a photograph taken by longtime NBA photographer Noah Graham, who was an invited guest but was just as surprised as everyone else when the gold curtain was dropped.
“When that confetti blew off, that’s when I knew,” Graham told ESPN. “I had no idea. In the world of Kobe moments, this makes sense to me. But I’m partial. I was there. This is through my eye. Of course I’m going to vote for something I did.
“But just in the sense of Kobe and his connection to the fans, this felt like it made the most sense. It shows that two-way street between ‘I see you’ and ‘You see me.'”
Bryant made lifelong fans out of his teammates, too.
“I could not be more grateful for everything Kobe did for our team and for me,” Madsen, now the coach of Cal men’s basketball, told ESPN. “He pushed everyone to be the best version of self.”
And Powell, who recently authored his first book, said Bryant’s ambitions off the court pushed his own.
“I didn’t think for me writing a book would be in the cards, but after watching all of the things he was able to accomplish and how he did it, it inspired me to want to step out of my comfort zone.”
The statue was designed by Julie Rotblatt-Amrany, the sculptor of Michael Jordan’s statue in Chicago as well as West and Chick Hearn statues in L.A.
“As I see today’s current generation of star players follow in Kobe’s footsteps with huge scoring games, I know he would take pride in knowing that he’s still pouring inspiration into the game that was so special to him,” Vanessa Bryant said.