By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
The South Pasadena Arts Council unveiled a Los Angeles Laker legend Kobe Bryant mural on Aug. 21.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the nonprofit held a private unveiling in April with a handful of people.
I feel it’s a perfect thing for any city in LA county to have,” said SPARC board member James Reynolds. “Kobe Bryant is an icon not only in Los Angeles sports but truthful in the history of Los Angeles… I hope it impacts (South Pasadena) in a tremendous way.”
Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Many artists across the world painted murals to honor and grieve Bryant. This one is located at the 1020 Mission Street complex in South Pasadena.
Los Angeles muralist Jonas Never painted the 14-foot by 14-foot artistic rendering of Bryant’s final moments as a Laker. Never, like many local Angelenos, grew up watching Bryant during his 20-year career with the Lakers. Never has painted murals of Bryant in the past, one of which is Downtown near Staples Center. However, saddened by the death of Bryant, it took Never some time to paint another mural of the Laker legend.
“The week, the day, the month of (Kobe’s) passing it was the farthest from my mind,” Never said.
He painted one mural and swore that he was done — until Andrew Bernstein reached.
“If it wasn’t for Andy, I wouldn’t have agreed to do this,” Never said. “Considering that it was the guy who took the final photo that was enough reason to do it.”
Bernstein is a renowned sports photographer, taking pictures for all of the LA teams from the Lakers to the Dodgers. He is the longest-tenured photographer for the National Basketball Association and followed Kobe from his first day as a Laker on draft night to his final game in 2016.
He was rather close with Bryant, even authoring a book with him titled, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.” Bryant was known as the Black Mamba for most of his career.
The mural is based on Bernstein’s photo of Bryant walking off the court after his final game. On its right side, it lists all of Bryant’s accomplishments throughout his career. It is right by Bernstein’s office, allowing him to see his late friend every day.
Even though many in the crowd had already seen the mural as they drove or walked past, the audience was ecstatic to finally celebrate the unveiling as a community.
“(I was) amazed and in awe at the same time,” said attendee Steven Cooper, who donned a Bryant jersey, just like many others in the crowd. “It was a somber and honoring moment. You can’t even put into words what Kobe meant to the city and what he will always mean to this city.”
For some, like former Laker Michael Cooper, it made him miss Bryant once more. Cooper played in the NBA from 1978 to 1990. He won five championships with the Lakers and was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. He was also the assistant coach when Bryant was drafted.
“It brings back those emotions of missing a great player, person and individual who really was committed to the city of Los Angeles,” Cooper said. “Although he’s gone that picture almost brings him back to life.”
Never and Bernstein wanted to create a piece to celebrate and honor the life of Bryant.
“You don’t expect someone’s memorial to bring joy, but I think it’s because it’s not a sad piece,” said Never. “There’s no angel wings. There’s no kind of pandering or trying to tug on the heartstrings. We’re celebrating (Bryant) for him being him.”