Lakers honor Kobe Bryant with statue outside arena

The Los Angeles Lakers unveiled a statue to honor Kobe Bryant outside of Arena in a ceremony Thursday. The bronze statue is 19 feet high and 4,000 pounds.

Bryant is the seventh Lakers legend commemorated with a statue in Star Plaza, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, announcer Chick Hearn, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Jerry West.

The unveiling date was important for the numerology of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, both of whom were killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26, 2020. Thursday is Feb. 8, 2024 — 2/8/24 — a date that combines both of Bryant’s jersey numbers (No. 8 and No. 24) and Gianna’s number (No. 2) when she was playing on the Mamba Sports Academy team.

Until the unveiling, the pose for Bryant’s statue had been one of the best-kept secrets in the NBA. The pose captures Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, with his right arm in the air and pointer finger pointing to the fans. The sculpture is surrounded by five championship trophies, representing the five Lakers titles in Kobe’s career. The base of the statue is etched with KOBE BEAN BRYANT “Black Mamba” and includes the box score from the 2006 game. The side of the base reads a quote from Kobe saying, “Leave the game better than you found it. And when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.” According to Vanessa Bryant, Bryant’s widow, there will be three Kobe statues outside Arena: one wearing No. 8, one wearing No. 24 and one with Gianna.

Bryant retired in 2016 after 20 seasons with the Lakers. During his Hall of Fame career, he won five championships, two Finals MVPs, one MVP, two Olympic gold medals, made 18 All-Star teams and had 11 All-NBA first-team selections. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Bryant on May 15, 2021. He is the first and only Laker to have two jersey numbers retired and hanging from the Arena rafters.

Laker guard Austin Reaves said the lights that shine on Bryant’s numbers on the walls inside the Lakers’ practice facility are a constant reminder of Bryant’s greatness and impact.

“I looked up to Kobe growing up,” Reaves said Monday. “The Lakers were my favorite team, and just being able to put on the same uniform that he put on, play in the same arena in L.A. is special. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot. Like I said, Kobe was my idol growing up. I wanted to do everything like him.”

Vanessa Bryant and the Lakers organization collaborated on the design. The sculpture was made by the Illinois-based couple Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany, who have created all of the statues outside Arena.

The ceremony occurred under an oversized white tent due to weather conditions in Los Angeles. It was closed to the public but will open for general viewing on Friday at 10 a.m. PST.

The Lakers host the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who swept Los Angeles in the 2023 Western Conference finals, on Thursday evening in what is one of the busiest days of the NBA calendar. Thursday also marked the NBA trade deadline, in which the Lakers stood pat, prioritizing their pursuit of a third star via trade in the summer of 2024.

“He meant a lot to me,” Anthony Davis said Monday of Bryant. “Big brother, mentor, kinda started, I guess, my career alongside him in the Olympics, just being under his wing. Teaching me the game, teaching me about life and everything. It will be … a cool moment, obviously to see that, but reliving it again in a sense, so, I don’t know. Emotions will be high for me, for sure.”

Los Angeles is honoring Bryant, whose nickname was the “Black Mamba,” by wearing their black-and-gold snakeskin “Black Mamba” City Edition uniforms against the Nuggets. The Lakers first wore the uniforms during the 2017-18 season, and then again during their 2020 championship run in the Orlando Bubble. The most iconic moment with the jerseys happened against Denver when Anthony Davis hit a game-winning 3-pointer in Game 2 of the 2020 Western Conference finals.

“It’s only right,” LeBron James said Monday. “I mean, the guy spent two decades with the organization, won multiple championships, set a precedent of what it means to strive for excellence. … His accomplishments speak alone. Not only his inspiration, but how he inspires off the floor as well, in the community and across the landscape of basketball. So, I think it’s a beautiful moment, not only for him but for his family.”

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(Photo of Kobe Bryant: Harry How / Getty Images)

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