The level of inspiration that Kobe Bryant provided in his twenty years as a Laker is hard to quantify.
When his statue was revealed following a poignant ceremony outside of Crypto.com Arena on Thursday afternoon, that inspiration was sure to hit Lakers fans, Kobe’s former teammates and especially his family in myriad ways.
“Kobe has so many people that have supported him all over the world from the very beginning, and this moment isn’t just for Kobe, but it’s for all of you that have been rooting for him all of these years,” said Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, in the anchor leg of five speeches honoring the Black Mamba. “To the fans here in LA, this is a special city. Kobe was so proud to represent. You welcomed him with open arms and have been so important to him, our family, and his legacy. It brings me joy to see how much love you have for all of us. We love you back.”
Kobe’s statue, standing 19 feet tall, portrays an image of No. 8 after he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Kobe was 27 years old in his 10th NBA season, at the midpoint of his spectacular, Hall of Fame career. Kobe is pointing up with one finger, an image that can be interpreted in many ways.
Fellow Lakers and Hall of Fame legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’s also represented in bronze in Star Plaza, offered some meaningful intuition.
“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,” said the Captain. “We learned from him that the limits of what is physically possible can be expanded, given enough effort and enough heart. That was insight; that was Kobe.
“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. We’re all here today to honor a man who represents not just extraordinary sports achievement but also timeless values that inspire us all to try harder to be not just better, but our best.”
Lakers CEO and Governor Jeanie Buss witnessed Kobe’s entire career, and reflected upon the massive impact he made upon the franchise that her father acquired in 1979, and loved so much.
“Trading for Kobe back in 1996 set this franchise and this city on a journey that was beyond our wildest dreams,” she said. “We all know the numbers tell a story: 20 years with one team, 33,643 points, 18 All-Star selections, a league MVP award, two NBA Finals MVPs, and the one that mattered the most to Kobe himself, five NBA championships.”
Current Lakers VP of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka was Kobe’s long-time agent, and very close friend. Pelinka reflected upon an emotional day by weaving together Kobe’s on-court play with his off-court persona.
“I was thinking of being in the presence of that statue and just how powerful it is,” said Pelinka. “Kobe was a social genius in that every moment of life was bigger than life itself. Whether that’s hitting the game-winning shot on the court, whether that’s being a dad to his daughter, whether that’s being a friend or a husband, he had just such a superhero ability to make moments bigger than they were.”
Vanessa Bryant noted that Kobe himself picked the pose, and then announced that there will be two more statues to come, one including Kobe and their beloved daughter Gianna, and one of Kobe wearing No. 24 in the latter stages of his career. She mentioned one particular detail that was important her: the inclusion of all four of their daughter’s names tattooed on Kobe’s arm. She also requested the inclusion of Kobe’s five championship trophies, some of his most prominent career accolades, a sheath QR code linking to memorable Kobe highlights, and even a nod to the triangle offense of Phil Jackson and Tex Winter.
“The amount of work that (Vanessa) did in perfecting his wish was really incredible,” said Pelinka. “Every detail was considered, and I just got to sit back as her older brother and be proud of how it all came together and how it looks. She’s a stickler for the details, and they were able to meet sort of the vision that Kobe wanted and she saw for the statue. Incredible day.”
Derek Fisher was drafted in the same year, 1996, and was by Kobe’s side for each of their five titles, but Fish focused first on Kobe’s family.
“Vanessa, thank you for allowing me to be here,” he said, looking ahead to her daughters, seated in the front row. “Natalia, Bianca, Capri: this is special. Your dad, as you know, and your husband, one of the greatest human beings, not just basketball players, one of the greatest human beings to ever walk this earth, and one of the greatest basketball players to ever touch a basketball.”
In 2007, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, and he not only helped Kobe get to three straight NBA Finals, and two championships, but also became extremely close with Bryant and his family.
“Just the impact that he’s had on so many people, the values that he shared,” Gasol told us on Spectrum SportsNet. “So many emotions. I was just so fortunate to be able to be on the same team, to have helped in some way enlarge his legacy, and I learned so much. He pushed me to be a better player, a better person overall, and obviously it’s very hard today not having him here in such an important, meaningful moment, but at the same time we are celebrating him and honoring him and his legacy, which goes beyond.”
Another Laker legend with a statue of his own, Magic Johnson, recalled what it was like for him to watch Kobe carry on the legacy as only he could.
“I am a Laker,” said Magic Johnson to us on Spectrum after the ceremony. “For me to come, every single night, to watch this young man play? Man! Just moment after moment, and you would go home always, every single game, saying, ‘I can’t believe he did that move,’ or ‘scored that many points’ … he made us just fall in love even more so with the Lakers, and with him. There will never be another Kobe.”
Magic Johnson Interview about Kobe Bryant Statue
Jerry West, not only a Lakers legend himself with a statue close to where Kobe’s statue lies, also drafted Kobe in 1996 after trading Vlade Divać to Charlotte, while acquiring Shaquille O’Neal in free agency, leading eventually to three straight titles from 2000-02.
“The memory of what an incredible career he had,” reflected West after the statue reveal. “He was so diverse; a great personality off the court. Was obviously an incredible competitor with particularly great skill, and to think he played here for so many years, and people had the privilege of watching someone like him with Shaquille O’Neal, was pretty special.
“There are two different sides to athletes, some athletes that are incredibly competitive, and these special players show up every night. You don’t need to ask them to play, regardless of circumstances. He was one of those players, and again, on top of that, just incredible skill. The city of Los Angeles loved him.”
Kobe’s coach for all five of his championships, Phil Jackson, spoke of the early struggles as he attempted to reign in the incredibly strong desire Kobe had to be great, in order to maintain the proper flow within a team. Jackson even had Michael Jordan, whom Kobe modeled a healthy chunk of his game after, meet with Bryant after a game, only to watch Kobe say ‘I can take you one-on-one.’ And yet, Jackson concluded his message by citing the growth that he witnessed from Kobe, who matured into a leader of men.
“Jay Leno invited the team to go on the Tonight Show, and about seven or eight (players) came on … as Jay Leno was trying to make humor, he said, ‘Who’s this guy that was never in a uniform, always dressed, that’s sitting behind you right there,’ and Kobe said, ‘Don’t make fun of Adam Morrison. He’s one of our teammates. He puts in the work. He may not get to dress, but he puts in the work, and he’s part of our team.’ Then I knew, that’s when I was the proudest of Kobe.”
Long-time Lakers analyst Stu Lantz, who beautifully weaved together the speakers with introductions and conclusions, then looked to his right at Vanessa Bryant.
“I don’t know if you remember this, Vanessa, but it was maybe the first year or second year that Staples opened, and we were in the family room, and I just commented to you about you should give a seminar on how to raise children,” said Lantz. “I had never in my long life met more well-behaved children than the Bryants. It was truly amazing. That discipline to do things of that nature obviously was within the family. Kobe was great at what he did. Vanessa, you’re great at what you do.”
Vanessa provided a fitting conclusion.
“I’ll leave you with one of my husband’s amazing quotes,” she offered: “Leave the game better than you found it. And when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.”