Kobe Bryant Statue Unveiling - Derek Fisher, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jeanie Buss, Phil Jackson, Vanessa Bryant, Stu Lantz

Transcript: Kobe Bryant Statue Unveiling

Following is the transcript from the Kobe Bryant Statue Unveiling. Emcee Stu Lantz and speakers Derek Fisher, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jeanie Buss, Phil Jackson, and Vanessa Bryant.

LEE ZEIDMAN: What a calming voice. It's always great to hear Lawrence Tanter make an announcement. You know you're at a Los Angeles and Lakers and AEG.

Welcome to Crypto.com Arena and LA Live. I'd like to thank you all four joining us today as we unveil our 12th statue and seventh Laker legend at Star Plaza, and to honor and celebrate one of the most incredible athletes of all time and one of the most important people in the history of this city, Kobe Bryant.

As the first employee of what was then Staples Center, now Crypto.com Arena, I know quite a bit about how this arena was constructed, and the more time I spent watching Kobe play here, the more I understood why many refer to this as the House That Kobe Built.

Now, part of my job involves watching a lot of sporting events. I can tell you in my 40-plus year career and being involved in over 6,500 events, I have never, ever seen anybody with Kobe's ability light up a crowd, take a game on his back, and change its outcome with his immense talent and sheer force of will.

There is absolutely no one more fitting to be recognized here at Star Plaza with a statue than Kobe Bryant, and it's a great pleasure and honor to be part of what we're doing here today.

Now, let's take a look back at some of Kobe's most iconic moments on the court.

(Video shown.)

LAWRENCE TANTER: Now, ladies and gentlemen, there is one man in American history that has said Kobe Bryant's name more than anybody on the microphone. Every preseason game, every regular season game, every playoff game, home and away.

Celebrating his 37th campaign as the longtime television voice of the Lakers, a warm welcome to Stu Lantz.

STU LANTZ: Thank you, Lawrence. As Lee said, this is such an honor to even be associated with this day, 2/8/24. I did see a lot of what Kobe had to offer, and it was special in many, many ways. I'll tell the quick story about what sold me on Kobe as a rookie.

I think we were on the road in Detroit or somewhere, we had a couple of days off and had some days to practice. He wasn't a starter then. So they had a scrimmage at the end of practice, two games to seven. He lost both games. After he lost the second game, he came over, I was sitting on the side on the bleacher by myself, and he came and sat not too far away from me.

I looked over at him, and I saw a tear rolling down his cheek, and I thought to myself, wow, if losing hurts that much, we've got ourselves a winner. Lo and behold, we had ourselves a true, true winner.

He was a talent beyond talents. The things that he could do on the basketball court most of us could only dream of. A sad day when we had to say goodbye.

To get the story and this program started, I want to introduce some of the people that are going to be giving you some wisdom and some stories about Mr. Bryant. As I call out their name, they'll enter the stage. First, the lovely Vanessa Bryant; next, Phil Jackson; next, I think we have a statue of him, as well, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; a longtime Laker and teammate of Kobe Bryant's, Derek Fisher; last but not least, all of our boss, Jeanie Buss.

Jeanie would like to start the program off by being the first at the Mike.

JEANIE BUSS: Thank you. It's my great honor to be speaking here today on behalf of the Laker organization, and it's an even greater honor to be speaking on behalf of Laker fans. There are many things for which I am thankful to my father. Near the top of the list is when he declared to Kobe, I want you to be a Laker for life.

Trading for Kobe back in 1996 set this franchise and this city on a journey that was beyond our wildest dreams. We all know the numbers tell a story. 20 years with one team, 33,643 points, 18 All-Star selections, a league MVP award, two NBA Finals MVPs, and the one that mattered the most to Kobe himself, five NBA championships.

Every one of them achieved here in Lakers' purple and gold. Those points, those wins, those trophies, they weren't just statistics. They were moments that transported us and brought joy to Laker fans across the city and around the world.

I have spent almost my entire life around sports, and I can tell you I've never met or witnessed anyone like Kobe Bryant. Everyone who watched him play the game knows he did things on the court unlike anyone else. He was a scrapper, a fighter, a winner, and he was also an artist, and he could bend the world to his will.

I think that is what my father meant when he said seeing Kobe play was like watching a miracle unfold.

An NBA team once offered to trade us five players in exchange for Kobe, but Dr. Buss declined, explaining that Kobe was as rare as a flawless five carat diamond, and five one-carat diamonds would never equal the same value.

I think of Kobe constantly and miss him and Gigi more than words can say, 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.

As we do so, we will motivate a new generation to emulate the Mamba Mentality.

And, might I add, I bet we will see photos of a marriage proposal that takes place right here inspired by the true love story of Kobe and Vanessa.

That is why I'm so grateful to be here today with his family, to celebrate him and make sure that his legacy endures. In 2009, 13 years after telling Kobe he wanted him to be a Laker for life, my father described Kobe as a marvel. He was, he is, and he will always be.

Thank you.

STU LANTZ: This gentleman has played alongside Kobe and was one of the rare players that really truly developed the respect that Kobe wanted from everybody, Derek Fisher.

DEREK FISHER: Thank you, Stu. Bear with me, guys. This is a celebratory day but one that is definitely personal. Vanessa, thank you for allowing me to be here, Natalia, Bianca, Capri. This is special. Your dad, as you know, and your husband, one of the greatest human beings, not just basketball players, one of the greatest human beings to ever walk this earth, and one of the greatest basketball players to ever touch a basketball.

No matter what people ever try to tell you later about who the GOAT is and all that, remind them.

Today we gather not only to -- we still mourn the loss of obviously our beloved teammate, but to celebrate the extraordinary life of a leader, an inspiration, and a true culture shifter on and off the basketball court.

In the realm of sports, Kobe was not merely a great player, he was a dedicated father. Like some of the stories -- when people ask me my favorite Kobe stories, I go to the father stories, I go to the girl dad stories. He was dedicated to that, as these girls know and Vanessa knows. He was a dedicated father, pillar of strength for his family. His commitment to fatherhood was unwavering, just as his dedication to the game was.

He intentionally balanced the demands of competition and family life. I'm personally still in awe of how, on the rare days off that Phil Jackson used to give (laughter), Kobe still found the energy to go to Disneyland with the family on those days off. That impressed me almost more than anything he did on the court.

But he wasn't just a champion; he was unmatched. His prowess, a rare specimen that left opposing players in awe, teammates inspired. He didn't just play the game, he defined it. 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.

His leadership went beyond scoring points. I know people only think of him as scoring points, but he passed. I know. I was the beneficiary of many of those passes. It was about fostering a winning mentality.

When we talk about the Mamba Mentality, it's not just about you. For the guys and girls that wear the shoes and wear the jerseys and you talk about the Mamba Mentality, if you ain't winning, you ain't winning. That's also what the Mamba Mentality was about as well, to push everybody to be their best, not just you.

He was often the heartbeat of our team, a guiding force that propelled us to greatness. His impact extended well beyond victories. It was about shaping character, instilling a sense of pride and confidence in all of us that wore the purple and gold.

In the realm of basketball, he wasn't just a player, he was a legend, like an actual living legend. That's what it felt like to be around him. His name now etched in the annals of sport forever, a beacon that continues to guide aspiring players. The echos of his accomplishments will reverberate in the aspirations of those who wear his sneakers today.

As we continue to remember our fallen basketball angels, Kobe, Gianna, and the people we lost that tragic day four years ago, let us not just dwell on the sadness of how that feels, but let us today and forever moving forward celebrate the greatness that their lives represented.

Kobe transcended basketball, the boundaries of the court. He touched the lives of all of us who had the privilege to know him.

In his memory, let us continue to strive for excellence, lead with unwavering dedication, and be the culture shifters that define the legacy of a true legend.

Thank you.

STU LANTZ: Although this gentleman didn't get the opportunity to play alongside Kobe, he got an opportunity to watch him quite a bit, the KAB, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Good afternoon, everyone. The first known statue was made 35,000 years ago, which was about the same time that I entered puberty. (Laughter.) Not much has changed since then. People still have a deep need to pay homage to those among us who represent the best version of humanity.

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.

The fact that all those qualities came in the form of an exceptionally handsome man is just a bonus.

Coach Wooden used to frequently quote Benjamin Franklin's line, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. When I was on the Lakers' coaching staff I had the opportunity to watch Kobe practice. I had never seen a player prepare with such focus and determination.

It is the one thing to want to excel, but it's another to drive yourself to acquire the necessary tools to excel.

Kobe's relentless determination made his teammates push themselves, too. He made everyone around him play better.

Kobe once said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, I see the beauty in getting up in the morning and being in pain because I know all the hard work that it took to get to this point.

He was referring to the physical pain that all professional athletes learn to live with in pursuit of excellence, but his statement is even more profound than that because we all arise from bed each day with some pain, the pain of lost loved ones, the pain of lost dreams, the pain of aging out of relevance.

Yet we endure that pain because it's the worthwhile cost of the daily joys and delights we experience in loving and dreaming and in growing older among family and friends.

I like to think of athletes as artists. Like the painter or poet, the athlete offers a temporary distraction from the struggles of life as well as the keen insights that help lessen the weight we all carry.

We batted our hands in amazement as we watched Kobe defy the laws of gravity and movement as he leapt, dodged, and pirouetted from one end of the court to the other. He was a defender's worst nightmare. And that was entertainment.

We learned from him that the limits of what is physically possible can be expanded, given enough effort and enough heart. That was insight; that was Kobe.

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.

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.

Thank you, Kobe.

STU LANTZ: Not a lot of people can say that they had the opportunity to coach Kobe Bryant, but this guy obviously had that opportunity and made the most of it, and together, they won some championships. Coach Phil Jackson.

PHIL JACKSON: 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.

I had an initial talk when I came to the Laker organization, and Jerry West had provided a room for Kobe to meet with me. It was private prior to the ceremony, and he talked about the fact of how many hours he had watched a former team that I coached play basketball, and he was ready to step into that, and he was ready to win championships.

He was 22.

Now, I have twin boys that are exactly a year younger than he is, 21, and being a father that has semi-delinquent children (laughter), I knew that this guy was much more serious than the children I was raising. He was very serious about this game.

We struggled, Kobe and I struggled a lot the first year. It was, I will tell you, like looking at Michael Jordan in Come Fly With Me or whatever that video was. He had everything, all the markings, the way he posed, the way he held himself. It was almost amazing.

There were times I would pull him to the sideline and say, don't try to take over this game. It's not time. Don't try to take over this game. But he was dying to do so, and he was ready to do so.

I arranged a meeting between Michael and Kobe to give him a little impression of how to handle being in a restricted basketball system that relied on passing the ball to available teammates and wanting to go one-on-one with this guy in front of you.

So I arranged, we had a little meeting in the cigar room off the bar downstairs, and Michael and I were sitting there, and Kobe walked in after his shower and the press and whatnot, and he sat down, and he said, "Michael, I can take you one-on-one." And Michael said, well, I think you might. I'm 37, you're 22.

But that was part of his growing up years. His teammates would come to me and say, you know, Kobe never goes out with us. He's always in his room. He's watching tape. He's doing this and that. But he's not really associating with us.

So I pulled him aside, and I said, you want to be captain of the team some day, don't you? He said, oh, I should be captain now. I said, Kobe, you don't associate with your teammates. You're separate and apart. Well, all they think about are girls and hub caps and cars and whatever. I'm watching the game. It's a serious business for me.

That was how he was.

We wondered, was this going to happen? Were there times, so many times, when I had to pull him over to the sideline and say, not yet, it's not time yet. Go inside, feed Shaq the ball, he'll get it to the open man.

When we went into the Playoffs, the answers were proven. You all remember various items that happened. One, the lob pass to Shaq in the seventh game of the Portland series that year, the Indiana series when he tore up an ankle in the second game when Rose put his foot underneath him, and he landed awkwardly and sprained his ankle, the fourth game in Indiana when he came off during an overtime and won the game for the team, and Shaq picked him up and carried him off the court and said, my little brother won the game for us today. That's the making of a dynasty that happened those three years.

Then there was the year of discontent. Shaq did get an operation until the season started, and Kobe, who was serious about maybe winning four in a row -- three in a row wasn't enough. He wanted four in a row. He kind of held it against him.

I had to say, you know, basketball is basketball, and you have to play the game with what you've got and how you come to the understanding of what your team is going to be in this particular year.

The fifth season, we went to the Finals, fourth time in five years. Difficult year. Gary Payton, Karl Malone were on our team. Karl was injured, Horace Grant was injured in the Finals, and we struggled and lost. Devastating loss. Most devastating thing that you can do as a coach is survive after loss in the Finals.

I don't know if players feel the same way, but I'd had it happen both as a player and as a coach, so I know the intensity of it.

Coming back from a sabbatical - that's what I call it - to take the reins of the Laker team over again, Kobe and I worked out a pact. This time, let's cooperate and collaborate, and that we did. We collaborated on how we're going to get a center, Pau Gasol, to fill the gap.

We collaborated on players that were playing at a higher level and needed to have a boost or have some kind of a charge put in them. Over the years, I'd given him books on leadership. Winnie the Pooh and Leadership and the Tao of Leadership. Kobe absorbed them, and that initial feeling of how much better am I than my teammates would always kind of survive and surface and come to the edge.

I don't know if you remember this, but he scored 50 points inside of three quarters one time against Dallas. I benched him the fourth quarter. A lot of fans didn't appreciate that, but we were up by 25, 30 points, and 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. They were running a zone against us, and we devised a little offensive system that would exaggerate Kobe having a one-on-one opportunity with either a power forward, a small forward, or Jalen Rose. (Laughter.) He ate that up.

There are two things that made me proud of Kobe and who he was. In the year of our discontentment, we had played a game on Tuesday night here in LA and flew up to Portland, Mardi Gras. I didn't know it was Mardi Gras until I got to Portland. The streets were still reveling with drunken young people at 3:00 in the morning. We always had a statement about the NBA, bags at 2:30 or 3:00 but maybe 4:00. We might get in at 2:30 or 3:00 and maybe get to bed.

The next morning, we were staying in the Benson Hotel, and I was sitting in the lobby reading a paper at 9:00 in the morning waiting for my staff to come down for our meeting before shootaround, and I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Kobe. He'd been to mass. He had ashes on his forehead. And I knew he was working on himself. Portland.

The seventh game of the Playoffs against the Boston Celtics in 2010, Kobe was having a horrible game. He ended up being 6 for 24 that night, and we kept saying to Kobe, stay inside the system, don't go out on your own, keep it moving, keep the ball moving, hit the open man, make the motion that we have to go through.

He finally got into it, and we won the game. Ronny Artest hit a three down the stretch, which was big.

Sasha capped it off with a couple of free throws that were down the stretch, and we celebrated a highly intense rivalry.

Jay Leno invited the team to go on the Tonight Show, and about seven or eight of them came on the tonight show, and some were sitting in the front, some were sitting in the back on chairs, and as Jay Leno was trying to make humor, he said, who's this guy that was always in the uniform -- never in a uniform, always dressed, that's sitting behind you right there, and Kobe said, don't make fun of Adam Morrison. He's one of our teammates. He puts in the work. He may not get to dress, but he puts in the work, and he's part of our team.

Then I knew, that's when I was the proudest of Kobe.

STU LANTZ: Don't know where to begin.

It was the Staples Center then, and there used to be a saying about -- I guess there still is a saying: Behind every great man, there's a great woman. No. Beside every great man, there's a great woman.

I don't know if you remember this, Vanessa, but it was maybe the first year or second year that Staples opened, and we were in the family room, and I just commented to you about you should give a seminar on how to raise children. I had never in my long life met more well-behaved children than the Bryants. It was truly amazing.

That discipline to do things of that nature obviously was within the family. Kobe was great at what he did. Vanessa, you're great at what you do. Welcome, Vanessa Bryant.

VANESSA BRYANT: It goes without saying that today is an especially sad day for us since Kobe and Gigi aren't here for what is supposed to be an incredibly joyous moment in Kobe's legacy. I want to thank you all for being here and showing your love and support for Kobe and our family.

I'm thankful for all of the fans, including those watching and supporting from home.

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.

I'd also like to thank Jeanie and Linda for their hard work in helping me with the statue and in making this day possible. So much goes into this process, and I'm really grateful for everyone that helped make this special day happen.

For the record, Kobe picked the pose you're about to see, so if anyone has any issues with it, tough shit. It is what it is.

Because fans all over the world and the City of Angels loved Kobe so much, he will have three statues in front of the arena also known as the House That Kobe Built, one wearing the No. 8, one with our beautiful daughter Gianna, and one wearing the No. 24.

Julie and Ronny worked on this particular statue and did a great job of capturing the details that Kobe wanted, while adding the details I requested to make it all come together. One detail you may notice on the statue is that all of our daughters' names are tattooed on Kobe's arm. Although some of our girls weren't born at the time of that particular moment, that specific detail is for Kobe.

A few additional elements that I requested to be added to the statue are Kobe's five championship trophies, Kobe's career accolades, the sheath QR code to watch Kobe's highlights pertaining to the statue on your phone, and the triangle-shaped base as a nod to Tex Winter and PJ's triangle offense.

Clearly it was that trio's favorite shape.

As a matter of fact, Kobe and Tex spoke so much about scoring within the triangle offense that I often saw triangles in my sleep. Now you'll get to think of them, too. Thanks, PJ.

Phil, Kareem, Derek, and Jeanie, you meant a whole lot to Kobe. We appreciate you for being here and sharing your memories of my husband with us today.

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's still pouring inspiration into the game that was so special to him.

I don't want to reveal too much about the statue before you see it, so I'll leave you with one of my husband's amazing quotes. "Leave the game better than you found it, and when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend." And that he did.

(Statue unveiled.)

LAWRENCE TANTER: Ladies and gentlemen, on your feet to honor the Mamba, Kobe Bryant, the new statue.

STU LANTZ: We want to thank you all for your attendance today. I know it's a day you'll always remember, and keep Kobe in your hearts. Go Lakers.