By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor
When Kobe Bryant died, NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein, while mourning, noticed the many murals around the world that were created based on his photos.
He and Bryant were good friends, as Bernstein served as the Lakers’ official photographer. His South Pasadena office at 1020 Mission Street is peppered with photos of Bryant. He thought it would be nice to see Bryant every day when he pulled into his office.
He approached his building owner, Thano Adamson of Mission Tile West, about a possible mural. Adamson was so taken with the idea that he agreed to commission it. Renowned artist, Jonas Never, painted it based on one of Bernstein’s photos, and it is co-sponsored by the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC).
“I asked Thano, ‘What if we commissioned a muralist,’” said Bernstein, who lives in San Marino.
“I didn’t even have to finish the sentence. He said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Thano went the extra 10 miles and completely redid the wall and had it ready for a muralist to do their thing.
“It’s incredibly generous for Thano to embrace the idea. It brings mural art into the community of South Pasadena. SPARC is all about raising awareness and promoting the arts in the area. There are very few murals in South Pasadena.”
Never willingly painted the mural at a “very reasonable fee,” Bernstein said. Never painted the approximately 15-foot by 15-foot mural from a photograph Bernstein took as Bryant left the court for the last time in a Lakers uniform on April 13, 2016, following a 60-point performance. The mural is serving its purpose, Bernstein said.
“Jones called me on a Saturday,” Bernstein said. “He actually heard somebody say an Uber was coming to get him and to meet him at the Kobe mural, which is so cool.
“For it to be thought of as a meeting point and a central point in South Pas, is great.”
The recent mural unveiling coincided with the five-year anniversary of Bryant’s final professional game.
“The photo I chose was the only photo that spoke to me,” Bernstein said. “It was my last photo of Kobe in a Lakers uniform as he walked off the court after his final game. He’s waving to the crowd. It was the last frame after hundreds of thousands of photos over 20 years. It’s one of my favorite photos.”
To make sure no one had created a mural from that photo, Bernstein connected with kobemural.com’s Mike Asner, whose website is a one-stop shop for Bryant murals.
“To our knowledge — and Mike is the expert — no one has painted this picture as a mural,” Bernstein said.
“I’m new to the mural art game, in terms of recognizing murals as an artform. Honestly, physically seeing Jonas create this mural from a blank wall is mind blowing to me, quite frankly.
“People were stopping by, chatting with him and taking photos. It’s in an interesting spot. It’s not on a wall that’s screaming at you. It’s more of a discreet location under an overhang. It can’t really be seen from the street. You have to make an effort to go see it. Not to take away from these murals that we see are front and center, but I like this one because it’s a little more discreet. It’s a perfect location.”
Bernstein grew up in Brooklyn but moved to the area to study at ArtCenter College of Design in 1978. He’s celebrating his 40th season with the NBA and he’s now the league’s senior photographer. Most of those four decades he spent as the Lakers team photographer.
Bernstein photographed the entirety of Bryant’s 20-year, Hall of Fame career and was co-author with Bryant on the worldwide bestselling book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.”
“Kobe and I became very close,” he said. “Unfortunately, for the reason of the tragedy, ‘The Mamba Mentality’ became a worldwide best seller. I’ve been noticing, as we all have, after the tragic death of he and Gigi, murals have been going up all over the country, in Southern California especially.”
In 2018, Bernstein was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award for Media.
He has also served as team photographer for the, LA Kings, LA Clippers and LA Dodgers. In addition, Bernstein holds the position of director of photography for Staples Center and Microsoft Theater LA Live.
Bernstein is a founding partner of a new media and events company called Legends of Sport that celebrates legendary athletes, teams and moments in sports. Bernstein hosts a weekly podcast called “Legends of Sport.” The podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, as well as other platforms. The platform and podcast can be followed on Twitter: @legends_ofsport, Instagram: @legendsofsport and online at legendsofsport.blog.
Bernstein is just happy to see his friend every day.
“In my office, I have a lot of Kobe pictures up,” Bernstein said. “I look at them and remember our friendship. To see him every morning when I drive into the office and to say hi to my friend is very profound to me.”