Kobe Bryant statue unveiling: How the Lakers both celebrated and mourned Kobe
By Mark Medina
Lakers luminaries, family members, and season-ticket holders all congregated outside Crypto.com Arena to marvel at the first of Kobe Bryant’s three statues.
With Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, dying tragically in a helicopter crash just over four years ago, however, none of Bryant’s entertaining highlight reels, inspiring speeches, or his 19-foot-high, 4,000-pound bronze statue could fully wipe away that empty feeling.
“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,” Vanessa Bryant said. “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.”
Unfortunately, Bryant’s family, his teammates, the NBA community, and his large fanbase have plenty of experience with mourning his loss in other public settings.
After the NBA postponed the Lakers’ game two days after Bryant’s passing, the Lakers hosted a game three days afterward. They held a public memorial just over a month later. In 2021, Vanessa gave a Hall-of-Fame induction speech on behalf of her late husband. Last year, Pau Gasol celebrated both his Lakers’ jersey retirement ceremony and Hall-of-Fame induction without his trusted teammate there to witness it. And before the Lakers played the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Vanessa, the Lakers’ owner (Jeanie Buss), a supportive luminary (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), a former close teammate (Derek Fisher), and a former accomplished head coach (Phil Jackson) told stories about Bryant’s growth as a competitor, leader, and family man without him in attendance.
“I think of Kobe constantly and miss him and Gigi more than words can say,” 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.”
Despite the lingering sadness that the Lakers have felt ever since Jan. 26, 2020, they struck the perfect balance with how they handled Bryant’s statue unveiling. They spent more time celebrating him both professionally and personally instead of extending a prolonged eulogy.