Basketball-shaped golden confetti filled the air as the first of three Kobe Bryant statues was unveiled Thursday afternoon.
After Vanessa Bryant finished her speech honoring her late husband, the image of Bryant pointing a finger to the sky became clear — the moment Bryant scored 81 points immortalized in the latest statue outside of the Lakers’ home arena.
Bryant now joins Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Chick Hearn in the courtyard outside Crypto.com Arena.
“For the record,” Vanessa Bryant said, “Kobe picked the pose you’re about to see, so if anyone has any issues with it, tough s—. It is what it is.”
Season-ticket members sat under a white tent with former and current Lakers, basketball Hall of Famers and celebrities as Jeanie Buss, Derek Fisher, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Phil Jackson each gave speeches about Bryant’s impact before his wife closed the event.
“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. “I don’t want to reveal too much about the statue before you see it, so I’ll leave you with one of my husband’s amazing quotes. ‘Leave the game better than you found it, and when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.’ And that he did.”
That Bryant quote appears on the triangular base of the statue — a nod to the offense that Bryant won five championships running.
Fans outside the building chanted Bryant’s name after the statue was finally unveiled.
The statue is the first of three that will honor Bryant’s career. Thursday, the first represented the No. 8 portion of his career. Another one will feature Bryant wearing No. 24 and the other will be of Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who died with him in a helicopter crash in 2020.
They’ll be unveiled at a later date and will also be outside of Crypto.com Arena.
“That’s fitting,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “That’s how the city of Angels feels about Kobe. He deserves something that no other athlete who played here deserves.”
A group of former teammates including Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Laker legends including Magic Johnson and Jerry West, former competitors Dwyane Wade and Jamal Crawford and even music megastar Bad Bunny attended the ceremony, as did Lakers coach Darvin Ham, assistant Phil Handy, forward Rui Hachimura and guard Austin Reaves.
“I have spent almost my entire life around sports, and I can tell you I’ve never met or witnessed anyone like Kobe Bryant,” Lakers president and owner Jeanie Buss said. “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.
“I think that is what my father meant when he said seeing Kobe play was like watching a miracle unfold.”
The statue — 19 feet tall and 4,000 pounds of bronze — was sculpted by Julie Rotblatt Amrany. A very tight circle of people including Vanessa Bryant, Linda Rambis, Jeanie Buss and Pelinka knew of the statue’s details.
“The statue is a wonderful contradiction,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “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.”
Jackson recounted a story where he arranged a meeting between Bryant and Michael Jordan.
“We had a little meeting in the cigar room off the bar downstairs,” the former Lakers coach said. “And Michael and I were sitting there, and Kobe walked in after his shower and the press and whatnot, and he sat down, and he said, ‘Michael, I can take you one-on-one.’”
It was a moment of levity in an event mostly full of celebration, with Vanessa Bryant addressing the obvious grief of the moment.
“It goes without saying that today is an especially sad day for us since Kobe and Gigi aren’t here for what is supposed to be an incredibly joyous moment in Kobe’s legacy. I want to thank you all for being here and showing your love and support for Kobe and our family,” she said. “I’m thankful for all of the fans, including those watching and supporting from home. 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.
“To the fans here in L.A., 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.”
The event began with a video of Bryant’s highlights narrated by Bryant himself. It ended with people gathered around the base of the statue honoring him and one of his most iconic games.
“He wasn’t just a champion; he was unmatched. His prowess, a rare specimen that left opposing players in awe, teammates inspired. He didn’t just play the game, he defined it,” Fisher said. “That’s really what it was like to be around him on a daily basis. He set the standard. He broke records. The legacy he leaves behind are foundations upon which current players and future players build their dreams.”