The Lakers honor Kobe Bryant with a statue outside Arena

The Los Angeles Lakers unveiled a statue honoring Kobe Bryant outside Arena during a ceremony Thursday. The bronze statue stands 19 feet tall and weighs 4,000 pounds.

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

The inauguration date was important in the numerology of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, both killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on January 26, 2020. Thursday is February 8. 2024-2/8/24-a date that combines both Bryant’s jersey numbers (#8 and #24) and Gianna’s number (#2) when she played on the Mamba Sports Academy team.

Until the unveiling, posing for the Bryant statue had been one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets. The pose captures Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, with his right arm in the air and his index finger pointing toward the fans. The sculpture is surrounded by five championship trophies, representing the Lakers’ five titles in Kobe’s career. The base of the statue is engraved with KOBE BEAN BRYANT “Black Mamba” and includes the score from the 2006 game. On the side of the base reads a quote from Kobe that says, “Leave the game better than you found it. And when the time comes to leave, he leaves a legend.” According to Vanessa Bryant, Bryant’s widow, there will be three statues of Kobe outside Arena: one wearing the number 8, one wearing the number 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 earned 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 hung from the rafters of Arena.

Laker guard Austin Reaves said the lights shining on Bryant’s numbers on the walls inside the Lakers’ training 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 wear the same uniform that I did, playing in the same arena in Los Angeles 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 created by Illinois couple Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany, who created all of the statues outside the Arena.

The ceremony took place under a large white tent due to weather conditions in Los Angeles. It was closed to the public but will open for general viewing 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 night in what is one of the busiest days of the NBA calendar. Thursday also marked the NBA trade deadline, where the Lakers stuck with it, prioritizing the 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, I guess my career started alongside him at the Olympics, just being under his wing. Teaching me the game, teaching me about life and everything. It’s going to be… a great moment, obviously seeing it, but reliving it again in a way, so, I don’t know. The emotions for me will certainly be high.”

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

“That’s right,” LeBron James said Monday. “I mean, the guy spent two decades with the organization, won multiple championships, set a precedent for what it means to strive for excellence. … His successes speak for themselves. Not just how inspiring he is, but how he inspires off the court, in the community and in the basketball landscape. So I think it’s a beautiful moment, not only for him but for his family.”

Mandatory reading

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