Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant’s jersey unveiled at the Smithsonian

In the aftermath of his tragic death earlier this year, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has been honored in yet another way.

There is a certain indescribable beauty that exists in sports. While an abundance of talented men and women have made their mark on his or her respective gridiron, a select few have stood out from the crowd.

The bona fide upper echelon of athletes are of the caliber that not only excelled their particular craft, but were able to inspire. Additionally, they are those that kept the bigger picture in mind and gave back, realizing that the world does not revolve around him or her.

Certainly, it is rather easy for someone to adopt the latter mentality when the spotlight is shining brightly upon him or her. Whether it stems from within, the media, or elsewhere, an underlying dose of confidence an athlete possesses can quickly turn that same individual into someone carrying an ego.

On the one hand, it is significant when an athlete, say, wins an MVP or wins something even cooler like a championship. It grants that person with a certain look, yes, but eventually even the shiniest trophies will accumulate dust no matter how much Pledge is utilized to maintain their appearance.

It is not to say that such accomplishments are completely, utterly bad. That is the furthest thing from true. However, they are not the only thing that matters when all is said and done. What is of even greater value is what a man or woman has contributed to the greater good.

Thankfully, one of the beautiful aspects about sports is that it presents players with a platform to extend their reach. Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant is one such example of someone who not only mastered his specific sport, but understood that he had an even bigger job to perform while on Earth. The larger-scale task, once more, boiled down to how he affected those around him.

For what it is worth, one could very well argue Bryant succeeded at the latter more so the former. The five-time champion inspired countless folks during his lifetime, pushing them through his maniacal habits to become the best possible versions of themselves. Perhaps most notably, he did so through what he coined as “Mamba Mentality,” a phrase that has now had worldwide reach.

On account of factors like this, it sheds light on a recent decision made by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Due to Kobe’s otherworldly impact on not just basketball, but on society as a whole, he has been remembered with an item now on permanent display in the nation’s capital.

According to Kevin Rector of the Los Angeles Times, the museum honored Bryant’s legacy on Monday with the unveiling of one of his Los Angeke Lakers game-worn uniforms. More specifically, the jersey was one that Kobe donned during the 2008 NBA Finals against the rival Boston Celtics.

Per Sam Quinn of CBS Sports, the jersey is a new piece in the museum’s Sports: Leveling the Playing Field section. Rather fittingly, the game-worn Bryant jersey joins another item once worn by another Laker. Not too far from the jersey one will find a set of “Equality” sneakers previously sported by superstar LeBron James.

The gesture marks yet another tribute to the late great Laker. In the summertime, the Philadelphia Eagles paid their respects to the Lower Merion H.S. product through the creation of a mural in their practice facility. Needless to say, a plethora of other tributes came to fruition in the wake of that tragic day earlier this year from those who simply loved the man and their hometown team.

Based on what Rector’s article delved into, the museum’s curator, Damion Thomas, made the following statement on the decision to put the Black Mamba’s jersey on view.

“We wanted to be able to share his impact,” Thomas said. “It really is about the cultural significance of basketball as an expression of the African American fight for greater rights.”

Via Ron Gutterman of Lakers Nation, Bryant’s jersey was supposed to be made public back in March. Alas, the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic placed the museum’s plans on hold.

In spite of the pandemic, Thomas made the executive decision that enough was enough, and Kobe deserved to be recognized. Part of his reasoning, to no surprise, was due to the athlete’s tragic passing back in January.

Notwithstanding that, Thomas was more than cognizant of the “impact” Bryant made on so many people, let alone those who follow the Lakers. Waiting longer to put the 2008 MVP’s jersey on display was simply not in the cards as the expression is woven.

Gutterman added that Bryant originally gifted the Lakers jersey to the museum back in 2017. Moreover, he noted that the 6-foot-6 shooting guard made another generous contribution to the venue in the past.

Kobe and his wife, Vanessa, were renowned for being philanthropic while the former was still with us. They actually donated a cool $1 million at one juncture to help make the museum what it is today.

Per Cassandra Negley of Yahoo Sports, the museum to this day remains extremely appreciative of the generosity exhibited by the Bryants. Likely in recognition of that component, Kobe was given the VIP treatment prior to the museum’s grand opening back in 2016.

Bryant was given a tour of the place by Thomas, and Thomas eventually popped the question as to whether the sports icon would be okay with donating any of his merchandise. As evidenced already, the all-time great happily obliged.

Certainly, it is nice that Kobe and his wife assisted in terms of the museum’s construction and in offering up the Finals jersey. Although that is true, something even bigger was at play in the decision to make Bryant part of the museum’s distinguished class.

On account of the tour Thomas gave Bryant, it is safe to say it opened up the eyes of the Lakers’ great. Bryant developed a greater appreciation of African American history and what it meant for the museum to be erected.

While that in itself is great to hear, Bryant was such a stalwart example of someone who likewise made his own dent on history. As was stated, it extends so far beyond the numerous achievements he conquered as a member of the Lakers. When one digs deeper, it entails more so the process it took for Kobe to become the legend he is today.

Per the LA Times piece, Thomas expressed that Kobe’s journey was so unique because of the conscious decision to enter the NBA right after high school. It was an uncommon move and many thus doubted whether the young man could succeed at the next level.

However, the guy who went on to play 20 years with the Lakers certainly proved many doubters wrong. On paper at first, it perhaps seemed like success was nothing but a good old-fashioned pipe dream.

People soon discovered, though, that Kobe was not going to let the naysayers destroy him. He used that as fuel and worked and worked and, well, worked some more. It validates why he is now considered one of the best ballers ever and was on his way to being one of the better storytellers of this generation as well.

Kobe was extremely passionate about his work and he served as an example unto others to find something they love and give it everything in the tank. In doing so, that same pipe dream that others may have deemed unrealistic became a reality for him.

His story is so vital because of the fact that he urged others to carry that same mindset. Granted everyone is not going to be given an athletic gift like him, he believed everyone had a purpose and that it is worth pursuing that purpose with a relentless desire.

That very spirit and determination reveal why Kobe Bryant now has his name stamped with various other African American heroes of this nation. His tale is compelling and shows that the American Dream does not have to be merely a dream. Assuming one applies him or herself, what is seemingly impossible can indeed metamorphose into reality.

Bryant’s path to success carries even more weight to it than that, though. According to Negley, the sports display at the Smithsonian has the following words inscribed therein. It reads as follows.

“Because sports were among the first, and most high profile spaces to accept African Americans on relative terms of equality, sport has had a unique role within American culture. Within black communities, sports have always been political,” the Smithsonian writes in its display description.

Undoubtedly, these very words exemplify one of the hugest elements of Kobe’s legacy. His tremendous example, especially now more than ever, have helped so many to persevere no matter what. He helped people to believe that they, too, can be a beacon of light in this world.

Every single person, regardless of their race or background, carries meaning at the end of the day. Making the most of the gifts they have been given and sharing them with others is one of the very best ways Kobe’s extraordinary legacy can live on.

On that note, the Smithsonian’s decision to share with the world a little dose of Kobe is just what the doctor ordered. In what has been a most challenging year on so many levels, everyone could use a boost and learning about Bryant’s nearly second to none drive will hopefully give people the drive to keep going.