Kobe Bryant statue as fans gather

How We Honor Legends: Kobe Bryant’s First Statue

“You know you’re a part of history today?” An arena attendant asked inside the Chick Hearn Press Room of Crypto.com Arena. Because February 8, 2024, was the day Kobe Bryant joined six other Lakers legends on Star Plaza outside of the “house” he built. The date was chosen to reflect Kobe and his daughter Gianna’s basketball numbers.  

Kobe’s family, friends, fans, coaches, and teammates gathered for the ceremony on the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Figueroa Street. And even more fans gathered around the ceremony to be as close as they could to this moment.  

Del Harris, Head Coach of the Lakers when Kobe was drafted in 1996, sat on the aisle of the second row and waited as guests flowed in and found their seats. When Former Lakers General Manager, Jerry West, entered the event, he made his way to his seat in the front row, but stopped before he got there to embrace Del. They shook hands at first, but Del gestured to have him wait a second as he stood and the two gave each other a hug—the man who coached Kobe and the man who brought him to the Lakers.  

Eventually, the man who sat at the table Kobe climbed on after winning the 2010 NBA Finals, Lakers Announcer Lawrence Tanter, asked guests to take their seat so the ceremony could begin.  

Host and Lakers TV Play-by-Play Announcer, Stu Lantz, approached the podium that an arrangement of roses in every shade of purple rested against. He announced the day’s speakers: President of Crypto.com Arena Lee Zeidman, Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss, Kobe’s teammate Derek Fisher, Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and former Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson. The guests warmly welcomed each speaker but when Stu announced Kobe’s Wife Vanessa Bryant, everybody rose to their feet.  

Each speaker shared stories about Kobe. They spoke about his unparalleled competitiveness, his deep love for his family, and his metamorphosis from a player to a legend.  

Before Phil spoke, the teleprompter casting the speeches for each speaker was turned off. The Zen Master called on the crowd, “Vanessa, Laker management, Buss family, and those players that have played championship games for the Laker uniform, will you stand up in this audience, you guys that have done that and were teammates, some of you, with Kobe Bryant.” Magic Johnson stood, as did Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, Mark Madsen, Lamar Odom, D.J. Mbenga, Vladimir Radamanović.  

As these stories were shared you could hear voices. But who would speak over Jeanie, Derek, Kareem, or Phil? The voices were coming from outside the walls of the ceremony, the voices were coming from fans cheering for Kobe.  

When Vanessa’s name was called again to speak, a second standing ovation occurred. And the voices outside grew louder, “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe,” the chants swarmed through the crowd. As everyone knows, Kobe’s legend has no bounds.  

“It brings me joy to see how much love you have for all of us. We love you back,” Vanessa said staring into the camera that connected her to Kobe’s fans. She shared how Kobe chose this moment for his first statue. And then she shared how there would be two more.  

Confetti flew into the air and cascaded down as the gold unveiling cover danced to the ground. The crowd rose for a third time and peered up at the 19-foot-high sculpture of Kobe pointing to fans as he walked off the floor at his 81-point game on January 22, 2006. 

“The statue is a wonderful contribution. 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,” Kareem said in his speech before the unveiling. 

As guests left the ceremony, they walked on a carpet covered in confetti basketballs printed with the number 8.  

On Friday morning, February 9th, Kobe’s statue was opened to the public. Star Plaza didn’t sleep all day. “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” chants floated in the air. There were so many, who knows how long they’ll hang in the atmosphere. And people of every walk of life were together, stood together, admired together, connected by Kobe. They placed flowers, art, and jerseys around Kobe’s statue, a place that was once a space to reflect on a tragedy has transformed into a place to celebrate life. Because legends are never gone. Legends live forever. 

The beautiful part of honoring a legend, the beautiful part of a legacy is the reliance between the legend and their fans; it doesn’t end. Kobe lifted people, and they lifted him. He still is. They still are.