On their social media accounts, the Los Angeles Lakers and Vanessa Bryant recently announced that the team would be unveiling a bronze statue of Kobe Bryant in front of the Lakers’ stadium, the Crypto.com Arena. The ceremony will occur before the team’s matchup against the reigning NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets, on February 8, 2024 — a date specifically chosen to honour Bryant’s jersey numbers, eight and 24.
Arguably one of the best Lakers players of all time, Bryant tragically died on January 26, 2020. The Lakers previously held a memorial service on February 24, 2020. In 2017, Bryant also had both of his jerseys retired by the Lakers.
In 2021, he was posthumously inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Bryant deservedly received recognition for his services to the Lakers, and this latest honour will bring together the fans, Bryant’s family, and the Lakers even more.
Hearing this news, you may have a question: how does the NBA memorialize influential players after they leave the sport? The answer is that there are two main ways: through jersey retirements and statues.
Typically, to memorialize a player who’s retired, an NBA team will retire the jersey number of that player, removing it from circulation so that new players will no longer be able to pick that number. Generally, for a team to retire a player’s jersey, they had to be an exceptionally elite player for that team.
Having won the most NBA championships in history — alongside the Boston Celtics — the Lakers are known for their winning history. They’ve had various legendary players on their team: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. They’ve all been inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame and also had their jerseys retired by the Lakers.
If a player was an elite player for multiple NBA teams — or even if they were an all-time great for a single team — they might get their jersey retired by multiple teams. Chamberlain got his jersey retired by three teams, which is the most for an NBA player. Michael Jordan got his jersey retired by the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat — though he never played for the Heat, they retired his jersey out of respect. Furthermore, the NBA retired Bill Russell’s jersey number across the whole league after his death in July 2022.
Steve Nash is the only Canadian to have his jersey retired in the NBA. He got his number 13 jersey retired by the Phoenix Suns, memorializing his back-to-back MVP seasons in 2005 and 2006, along with his runner-up MVP season the following year. Nash was especially vital and iconic to his team, as the Suns were never really competitive without him during the years he played with them.
Besides getting a jersey retired, if they were an all-time great, a player may receive the honour of getting a statue in front of a stadium — usually of the NBA team where they made the biggest impact. For example, after retiring, LeBron James will reportedly get his jersey retired by all three teams he has played for in his career — the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Miami Heat. According to NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy, James also deserves a potential statue in Cleveland and Los Angeles.
Since Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, of course, his team is making him a statue. Other greats, like Larry Bird, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, West, Russell, and Johnson, have all had statues made by the respective teams they are most fondly remembered by.
Looking ahead into the future, apart from James, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets all currently have a clear case to get their own statues and their jerseys retired after their careers end. With both Curry and James getting older, the era of our current great players is approaching its end, which means we may see more tributes in the near future.
Bryant’s statue in front of Crypto.com Arena next year will complete and memorialize his legacy beautifully. Basketball fans will take inspiration from his legacy and contributions to basketball — as they do for every other player who has received similar honours.