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The Lakers reveal the first of 3 statues of Kobe Bryant

A statue of former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is seen after its unveiling outside the NBA basketball team's arena, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Eric Thayer
A statue of former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is seen after its unveiling outside the NBA basketball team's arena, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Los Angeles.

Four years after the death of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, the team has unveiled the first of three statues depicting him that will stand outside the city's Crypto.com arena.

The first was revealed at a Thursday ceremony and depicts Bryant, donning jersey No. 8, pointing his finger to the sky moments after scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. It remains the second-highest amount of points scored in a single NBA game.

"Kobe picked the pose you're about to see, so if anyone has any issues with it, tough s---," Bryant's wife, Vanessa, said at a ceremony celebrating the statue.

She added, "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 is still pouring inspiration into the game that was so special to him."

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson said that in a previous game, he benched Bryant after he scored 50 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks. At that point, the Lakers were up about 25 or 30 points.

"I said, 'No, that's enough.' We're going to win this game and we're going to save some motion for another game on another night. But the night he got 81, we needed all those points," Jackson said.

The statue was made by artist Julie Rotblatt Amrany and features elements specially requested by Vanessa Bryant, including an inscription of Bryant's career accolades; a QR code to watch his highlights; a triangular base, an homage to the triangle offense created by Jackson and former NBA coach Tex Winter; and replicas of Bryant's five championship trophies encircling the base.

It will be open to the public starting Friday at 10 a.m., the Lakers said.

The statue of Bryant also shows a tattoo on his arm with the names of his and Vanessa's four daughters – Natalia, Bianka, Capri and Gianna, who died alongside Bryant in a helicopter crash in 2020, at age 13.

"Although some of our girls weren't born at the time of that particular moment, that specific detail is for Kobe," Vanessa Bryant said.

Bryant's former teammate Derek Fisher said of all the stories out there about Bryant, he prefers to tell the ones about who he was as a father, such as taking his family to Disneyland on one of the few days he had off.

He told Bryant's family, "Your dad, as you know, and your husband – one of the greatest human beings ...who ever walked this Earth, and one of the greatest basketball players to ever touch a basketball. So no matter what people ever try to tell you later about who the GOAT [greatest of all time] is and all that, remind them."

Others in attendance included former Lakers players Magic Johnson, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Jerry West and Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest Jr.); Bryant's former Olympics teammate Dwyane Wade and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Jackson recalled several moments in which he knew Bryant would be a leader.

When Jackson first joined the team, he met with Bryant, who at 22, discussed the copious amounts of hours he spent watching Jackson's former team, and how his sights were set on winning championships.

Bryant went to Mass and read books on leadership that Jackson would give him. He spent his time off the court recovering and watching tape while his teammates were out for the night, so much so that they complained to Jackson that he wasn't spending enough time with them.

"You want to be captain of the team one day, don't you?" Jackson asked Bryant, to which he replied, "Oh, I should be captain now."

"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."

Bryant was a lifelong Laker, spending 20 years with the team. In that span, he scored 33,643 points, was selected for the All-Star Game 18 times, received a league MVP, two NBA Finals MVPs and won five championships.

"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," Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. "The fact that all those qualities came in an exceptionally handsome man is just the bonus."

Another statue of Bryant will show him with his daughter Gianna, while a third will depict him in his No. 24 jersey.

"I think of Kobe constantly and miss him and Gigi more than words can say," Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss said. "But today, I am 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."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]