The confetti erupted and the curtain came down and, amid audible gasps, there appeared a muscular bronze figure doing something nobody expected.
Kobe Bryant isn’t shooting. He isn’t scoring. He isn’t celebrating.
He is sharing.
He is walking off the court after his 81-point game in 2006 and pointing to the fans as if to say, “This was for you.”
It is not the swaggering Kobe most people remember, but it is the inclusive and unselfish Kobe that he had become.
At first glance it was weird, but upon further inspection it was perfect.
The long-awaited unveiling of Bryant’s statue at the Crypto.com Arena Star Plaza Thursday wonderfully proved Kobe to be defiant to the end.
It turns out, he essentially designed his surprising sculpture himself.
“For the record, Kobe picked the pose you’re about to see,” said his widow, Vanessa Bryant, before the big reveal. “So if anyone has any issue with it, tough s—.”
The ceremony in front of several hundred invited fans and former players was indeed pure unadulterated Kobe, from the diverse stars in the crowd to the sweet Phil Jackson stories to the actual message behind the sculpture itself.
“This moment isn’t just for Kobe, but it’s for all of you that have been rooting for him all of this year,” said Vanessa.
In typical Kobe fashion, at 19 feet tall, it’s the biggest of the seven Lakers statues, 2 feet taller than Magic, 3 feet taller than Kareem, and — wink, wink — almost double the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue.
Also typically Kobe, Vanessa announced the plaza would eventually be adorned with two more Kobe statues, or three times as many sculptures as any other Laker.
“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,” said Vanessa. “One wearing the No. 8, one with our beautiful daughter Gianna, and one wearing the No. 24.”
Bryant and Gianna, who died together four years ago in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of seven others, are already together forever in this statue.
Look close, and you’ll see his four daughter’s names are tattooed on his arm.
“Although some of our girls weren’t born at the time of that particular moment, that specific detail is for Kobe,” said Vanessa.
Also at Vanessa’s request, the base of the statue is a triangular ode to the championship offense devised by Tex Winter and run by Jackson.
Of course, Kobe is stomping all over it.
“Kobe and Tex spoke so much about scoring within the triangle offense that I often saw triangles in my sleep,” said Vanessa. “Now you’ll get to think of them, too. Thanks, P.J.”
Vanessa also acknowledged that the pose was chosen by Kobe not just for its inclusiveness, but because her late husband loved scoring all those points.
“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,” she said.
It was that inspiration that drew so many stars from so many fields to the ceremony. Russell Wilson was there. Bad Bunny was there. Candace Parker showed up wearing a Gianna jersey. Dwyane Wade was there.
Many of the former Lakers greats were there, from Magic Johnson to Jerry West to Pau Gasol to Jamaal Wilkes and even the new coach of the improving Cal team, that dancing fool Mark Madsen.
It was notable that Shaq didn’t show, as he apparently couldn’t miss work on TNT. It was also notable that, with the Lakers hosting the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, LeBron James wasn’t there, even though teammates Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves made appearances.
To be fair, there is a good chance Kobe wouldn’t have appeared at this sort of statue ceremony for someone else if his team had a game that night. Heck, remember when he wouldn’t even come out of the locker room at halftime when the Lakers retired Shaq’s number?
Jackson was Kobe’s coach then, and, as one of the five speakers Thursday, he captured much of his evolution.
He spoke about arranging a meeting between Bryant and Michael Jordan early in Kobe’s career in hopes that Jordan could teach him the value of sharing the ball.
“Michael and I were sitting there, and Kobe walked in…and he sat down, and he said, “Michael, I can take you one-on-one.’” Jackson recalled “And Michael said, well, ‘I think you might. I’m 37, you’re 22.’’’
Jackson noted two incidents that later made him proud of the man Kobe became.
One occurred early one morning in a hotel lobby in Portland on an Ash Wednesday after the Lakers had arrived late the previous evening.
“I got a tap on the shoulder, it was Kobe, he’d been to Mass, he had ashes on his forehead,” said Jackson. “And I knew he was working on himself.”
The other incident occurred on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show” when the host poked fun at the player who was always sitting on the bench but never in uniform.
As Jackson remembers, 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.”
Concluded Jackson, “Then I knew, that’s when I was the proudest of Kobe.”
The world can now share in that pride through this statue, which speaker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said held many meanings.
“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,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
As the ceremony concluded beneath a huge white tent, distant fans could be heard chanting, “Kobe…Kobe…Kobe.” Those fans will have access to the statue beginning Friday morning. Expect the crowds to be enormous. After all, it’s their statue too.
Now and forever, Kobe Bryant is pointing at you.