New Kobe Bryant statue a reminder of the star’s everlasting influence on the Lakers

There may be no harder time of the year to keep a secret in the NBA than the build up to the trade deadline, as scouts, executives, coaches, players and agents all gossip with reporters about who could move where and what that deal could cost.

But while as those whispers have passed back and forth during the past month, the Lakers have managed to keep a major decision completely under wraps.

Thursday, just hours after the NBA’s trade deadline passes, the Lakers will unveil a Kobe Bryant statue outside their Arena home and no one — save for a select few — knows how he’ll be memorialized.

“I don’t think he has one image that pops into my head that says, ‘That’s the one that should be immortalized on the statue’ because there’s too many memories,” LeBron James said. “Too many plays. Too many moments that he had.”

Whether the statue is Bryant ripping his jersey to the side or gnawing the collar between his clenched teeth, whether it’s a fadeaway jumper or a emphatic slam or whether it’s Bryant basking in the championship confetti with his arms raised, there’s really just one certainty about the ceremony. It’s, undoubtedly, still going to be sad.

A little more than four years after a helicopter crash killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others on board, it’s still impossible to separate the on-court achievements that earned Bryant the honor of a statue from the circumstances that make it impossible for him to be there to celebrate them as well.

“He meant a lot to me,” Anthony Davis said. “Big brother, mentor, kinda started, I guess, my career alongside him in the Olympics, just being under his wing. Teaching me the game, teaching me about life and everything. It will be … a cool moment, obviously to see that, but re-living it again in a sense, so, I don’t know. Emotions will be high for me, for sure,”

The ceremony will occur at 3:30 Thursday afternoon and will be broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet. The public will not be able to attend, and because weather has forced the ceremony under a tent, the public will not be able to see anything either. The statue will be available for public viewing beginning Friday morning.

Kobe Bryant begins the celebration as the Lakers beat the Celtics for the NBA Championship at Staples Center.

“For the Lakers organization, for his legacy that he’s left behind, it’s a huge deal,” said D’Angelo Russell, Bryant’s one-time teammate. “Well deserved. I don’t even think that’s enough. There should be a Kobe day, Kobe week, all that. I think he deserves more. So, that’s a start.”

Bryant’s impact is easy to spot all over the league. During the Lakers’ recent Grammy road trip, multiple players wore Bryant’s signature Nike sneakers. New York coach Tom Thibideau remembered a high-school aged Bryant showing up at the 76ers facility while Charlotte coach (and former Laker assistant) Steve Clifford remembered hugging Bryant during his final season in the league.

“I looked up to Kobe growing up,” Austin Reaves said. “The Lakers were my favorite team, and just being able to put on the same uniform that he put on, play in the same arena in L.A. 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.

“So just to have that statue going up, something that shows love and appreciation for what he did, what he stood for, is special. I got some friends coming in town for that specific reason.”

Reaves said the lights that shine on Bryant’s numbers inside the Lakers’ facility is a constant reminder of one of the organization’s pillars.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant watches a tribute video at Staples Center before the final game of his career on April 13, 2016.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant watches a tribute video at Staples Center before the final game of his career on April 13, 2016. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Anytime I can put on the same purple and gold that he put on, it means a lot to me,” Reaves said.

Davis said the same — there’s no mystery about that. Bryant’s impact on Lakers players and the people they compete with around the league will be just as great on 2/8/24 as it was on the seventh and as it will be on the ninth.

The statue, whatever the pose, will symbolize that.

“It’s only right,” James said. “I mean, the guy spent two decades with the organization, won multiple championships, set a precedent of what it means to strive for excellence. … His accomplishments speak alone. Not only his inspiration, but how he inspires off the floor as well, in the community and across the landscape of basketball. So, I think it’s a beautiful moment, not only for him but for his family.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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