The Los Angeles Lakers chose 2/8/24 to unveil the statue of Kobe Bryant in front of their gym. The date has references to the numbers used by the star in his five NBA titles with the Californian team, 8 and 24. And to the number 2 shirt that his daughter, Gianna, wore in youth tournaments, who died at the age of 13 in the helicopter accident that also killed the father, at 41, in January 2020.
In a ceremony full of tears, the bronze statue was unveiled on Thursday night – which depicts Kobe in number 8, celebrating with his finger raised his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. There will also be two others , still without a completion date: one with the athlete wearing the number 24 shirt and another with Gianna. The first sculpture is already one of the tourist attractions in Los Angeles.
The event that showcased the first piece to the world served as an excuse to make clear again the influence that Bryant still has on the North American basketball league. Discounting all the hyperbole that accompanies situations of this type, an NBA still emerges from the tribute with the brand of the five-time champion.
It is undeniable that the Lakers idol is a huge reference in the sport and has his fingerprints on the game of multiple successors. One of them is Jayson Tatum, 25, the main player for the Boston Celtics, a team hated by Los Angeles fans and by Kobe himself. The shooting guard, more than once, wore an accessory on his arm to dry sweat with the number 24 – in purple and yellow, the color of the Celtics’ arch-rival.
One of those occasions was in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, a decisive Game 7 victory against the Miami Heat. “Everyone knows what he means to me: my idol, my favorite player. I wanted something to show him in the most important game of my career so far” he said, satisfied with the triumph and his 26 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
Tatum is not an isolated case. Even athletes who were too young to properly appreciate Kobe during his career carry his legacy on their uniforms – and on their skin. Winger Jalen Williams, for example, who recently arrived in the NBA wearing the number 8 and a tattoo with Bryant’s face, was born in 2001, when his idol was already champion of the league and was very close to bi.
“In high school, I wore his number in the States,” Williams said, referring to Kobe’s number 10 jersey on the national team. “At university, I let someone else take the 10 and I took the 24,” he added. In the NBA, he wanted to enter as his reference, using the number 8.
“He is the Jordan of our generation,” said Cam Thomas, 22, citing the icon Michael Jordan – Kobe’s mentor. “Do you know how people worshiped Jordan the most? That’s how we are with Kobe,” explained the Brooklyn Nets’ number 24.
Thirty-nine players in the current NBA wear the number 8 or 24, and almost all directly link the pick to Bryant. But the issue goes beyond numerical decisions or distant idolatry.
Kobe wore the number 8 shirt for ten years, as a young man with surreal athletic performance – and a basically insufferable personality, which contributed to the end of his successful partnership with Shaquille O’Neal. And he wore it for the following ten years at 24, with which he mentally dominated the game and established personal relationships like never before.
The spoiled kid from Philadelphia – who was called “uncoachable” by coach Phil Jackson, with whom he would become close – matured and, somehow, became a mentor. And a mentor with unbelievable technical knowledge, who became a kind of oracle for those who followed him.
Even before retiring in 2016, Kobe started to set goals and review videos of matches with athletes like Anthony Davis and the aforementioned Jayson Tatum. Attention to detail and discipline were the center of what came to be called “Mamba Mentality”, a kind of unwritten philosophy by Bryant, whose nickname was Black Mamba, a reference to the black mamba snake.
“Mamba Mentality is having the willingness to win in sports and in life, with the necessary work and killer instinct,” said Davis, who became Bryant’s protégé at the 2012 Olympic Games, when he was still a college athlete. “Today, when people are struggling, trying to survive difficulties, they say, ‘I need to have that Mamba Mentality.’ It’s a state of mind in which you strive to be the best version of yourself.”
Davis, 30, is currently the Lakers’ best player. One of his teammates is point guard D’Angelo Russell, 27, who was alongside Bryant in his last game for the Los Angeles team, a historic night with 60 points from the star, who clearly didn’t have the physical conditions to do so. Or had.
But what resonates most about D’Angelo to this day isn’t those 60 points. These are the in-season trips where Bryant would use his computer on the plane to make adjustments to a short film. If commitment was one of the pillars of the Mamba Mentality, Kobe did not limit it to basketball and showed that it can be applied in other areas.
That’s how he won an Oscar. Yes, Kobe decided to make a film and won an Oscar – the animation “Dear Basketball” won the award for best short film in 2018. “Seeing his work habits jump from basketball to what he was building in that story was incredible,” Russell said.
It is this mentality that still resonates in the NBA, in generations that may not even have the exact idea of what Kobe Bryant was. It also resonates with older generations, as can be seen in the words of former rival Shaquille O’Neal, 51, recorded for the broadcaster TNT.
“How do you get an NBA statue? You have to win. You have to change the game. And you have to be monumental. Kobe Bryant meets all of those requirements. Five-time champion, 18-time All-Star, the face of the Lakers for two decades. He was the most competitive player I’ve ever seen. And the best teammate I’ve ever had,” said Shaq. “Let the statue make one thing clear: Kobe Bryant is forever.”