LOS ANGELES — Just before we would see Kobe Bryant immortalized in bronze, Vanessa Bryant offered a forewarning regarding the depiction of her late husband and the Lakers great in statue form.
“For the record, Kobe picked the pose you’re about to see,” Vanessa said. “So, if anyone has any issues with it, tough sh—.”
“Because fans all over the world and the City of Angels loved Kobe so much, he will have three statues in front of the arena also known as the House That Kobe Built,” Vanessa shared, “one wearing the No. 8, one with our beautiful daughter Gianna, and one wearing the No. 24.”
“When I found out there were going to be three statues, I just said that’s fitting because it’s just how the city of Angels feels about Kobe,” said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who once served as Bryant’s long-time agent during the second half of his career. “He deserves something that no other athlete that’s played here deserves.”
Bryant always thirsted for as many championships, milestones and points as possible. That’s why Johnson laughed before agreeing with a reporter’s assertion that Bryant likely would have bragged that he has more statues than him. Heck, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson reshared that Bryant proclaimed to Michael Jordan that he could beat him one-on-one after Jackson arranged a meeting between the two in hopes that Jordan could convince a young Bryant to embrace ball movement.
No greater way to exert his legacy than with complementing his 9-foot-high, 4,000-pound statue with two more, right? Before the Lakers retired both of his jersey numbers during the 2017-18 season, Bryant conceded “it’s really, really tough for me” to decide which jersey number should be featured for his statue. Bryant then chose No. 24 because he found that era “more challenging” (2006-2016) with both winning two NBA titles without Shaquille O’Neal (2009, 2010) as well as experiencing season-ending injuries in 2012-13 (left Achilles), 2013-14 (left knee) and 2014-15 (right shoulder) before somehow scoring 50-points in his final game during another injury-riddled campaign (2015-16).
Yet, this idea goes beyond satisfying any of Bryant’s competitiveness or ego. It also practically makes sense.
Bryant’s wife (Vanessa), the Lakers’ owner (Jeanie Buss), a Lakers luminary (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), a former teammate (Derek Fisher) and a former coach (Jackson) all shared various stories that charted Bryant’s growth. They talked about his work ethic, how he grew as both a leader and father and how he overcame numerous injuries.
All of those speakers highlighted Bryant’s layered career with eloquence and context. It seems nearly impossible to capture that kind of nuance with only one statue, no matter how great of a job Julie Rotblatt-Amrany did with sculpting the first one.
It would seem unrealistic to combine two jersey numbers into one. It would prove too hard to choose one iconic pose during two distinct eras. And this paves the way for Lakers fans to further honor Gianna with what she represented as a young woman’s basketball player hoping to build on her father’s legacy with the same competitive zeal.
“Fans will gather here in the shade of this statue beside this building where Kobe gave us so many memories, and we will share what he meant to us,” Buss said. “As we do so, we will motivate a new generation to emulate the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ And, might I add, I bet we will see photos of a marriage proposal that takes place right here inspired by the true love story of Kobe and Vanessa.”
It’s understandable the Lakers have not yet determined when the next two Bryant statues will be unveiled. Consider the time lapse between the Lakers’ other statue unveilings with Johnson (2004), Chick Hearn (2010), West (2011), Abdul-Jabbar (2012), O’Neal (2017) and Baylor (2018). This also ensures that Bryant’s legacy can have a longer-lasting impact.
The first statue unveiling featured plenty of NBA royalty, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Lakers luminaries (Johnson, James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, Byron Scott), former NBA stars (Dwyane Wade), former teammates (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Metta Sandiford-Artest, Sasha Vujacic, Gary Payton, Jordan Farmar, Larry Nance Jr.), a former Lakers trainer (Gary Vitti) and WNBA stars (Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker). Whenever the Lakers unveil Bryant’s No. 24 statue, they can perhaps showcase familiar and new guests both as speakers and those in attendance. Both current and young players can then further learn about Bryant’s career.
“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,” Vanessa said. “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.”
Would such speeches have the same impact in the next statue presentations? Would the unveiling be as dramatic as the first one? No need to worry that the subsequent statue unveilings would mirror a stale Hollywood sequel. Lakers fans never tired of seeing Bryant’s heroics with making countless game winners and overcoming various injuries. Lakers fans just wanted more.
Thankfully for Lakers fans, they received their wish before they even had time to ask for it.