Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, And Derek Fisher Among Other Speakers
On February 8, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled the first of three statues in honor and memory of late Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who died in January 2020 with his daughter in a tragic helicopter accident.
The two-ton bronze statue shows Kobe in a white Lakers uniform with his finger in the air, commemorating his 81-point scoring performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. The base of the statue features Bryant’s full name, Kobe Bean Bryant. Bryant’s nickname, “Black Mamba,” is etched on the base underneath his name.
A literal A-list of Lakers legends attended the event, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, and many more. Lakers owner Jeannie Buss and, of course, Bryant’s wife Vanessa also were on hand for the ceremony.
Jackson Recalls Bryant’s Growth As A Player And A Leader
When Jackson got up to speak at the ceremony, he told everyone about his experience with Bryant as a coach. He began with his efforts to try to teach a young Bryant not to always try to take over the game but to fit within the system. He illustrated how big of a challenge this was with a funny story of a meeting he set up for Bryant to meet and speak with Michael Jordan privately. Bryant walked into the meeting and told Jordan, “Michael, I can take you one-on-one.” Jordan, nonplussed, replied, “Well, I think you might. I’m 37, you’re 22.”
Jackson then went through the successes of the Lakers’ threepeat championships with Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the discontent of the year following the threepeat, and the frustration of recovering from that year only to lose in the NBA Finals the year after. Throughout, he noted how Bryant was always all business and working on improving himself as a player and a leader.
But the most poignant moment came when Jackson told the story of when the Lakers went on the Jay Leno Tonight Show and Leno tried to poke a little fun at Adam Morrison, who rarely played or even dressed for Lakers games due to ongoing injuries. Bryant responded by telling Leno not to make fun of Adam because he was their teammate and even if he didn’t dress, he put in the work. Jackson concluded by saying, “Then I knew: that’s when I was the proudest of Kobe.”
Abdul-Jabbar, Buss, And Vanessa Bryant Also Pay Tribute
The ceremony featured stirring remarks from many former Lakers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted:
“This statue may look like Kobe, but really it’s what excellence looks like. What discipline looks like. What commitment looks like. … 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.”Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA.com
Lakers team owner Jeannie Buss added:
“I think of Kobe constantly, and I miss him and Gigi more than words can say. But today, I’m filled with joy because in the future, I know 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. As we do so, we will motivate a new generation to emulate the Mamba Mentality.”Jeannie Buss, NBA.com
Bryant’s wife Vanessa was last to speak before the statue was unveiled and she spoke of how much love her late husband had for the city of Los Angeles and Lakers fans.
“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 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.”Vanessa Bryant, NBA.com
Viewers can watch the entire unveiling ceremony at NBA.com.
More Bryant Statues To Come
Rather than having the statue ceremony on the date of Bryant’s death (January 26), the Lakers chose the date of the unveiling — 2/8/24 — deliberately. Bryant’s daughter Gianna, who died with him in the helicopter crash, wore the number 2 as a youth basketball player. And Bryant himself, of course, wore the numbers 8 and 24 during his career.
The Lakers have announced two additional statues they will create in addition to this first “Black Mamba” memorial. The second statue will feature Bryant wearing his other number 24. And the third statue will be of both Bryant and Gianna together.
Kobe Bryant joins a select few Lakers who have had statues erected around the Lakers home arena to commemorate their lives and careers. Others include former players and Hall-Of-Famers Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Jerry West. Hall Of Fame Lakers announcer Chick Hearn also has a statue in his honor.