Lakers unveil first of three statues of Kobe Bryant. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The Los Angeles Lakers has unveiled a statue in honour of Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in California in January 2020. The franchise expects to build at least two more.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled the first of three statues that will be erected in honour of Kobe Bryant outside their Arena stadium at an event in California, four years after the icon's death. 

In the sculpture, Bryant wears the Lakers' number 8 and points to the sky with his right index finger, a gesture he made after breaking his scoring record with 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.

The base of the figure features the player's name, his nickname "Black Mamba" and some of the extraordinary milestones Bryant has achieved during his two-decade career with the Lakers, including five championship titles.

"Kobe chose the pose you're going to see. If you have a problem with it, too bad," said Vanessa Bryant, the basketball legend's widow, at the ceremony, revealing that there will be three statues in total to pay tribute to one of the greatest legends in the history of the Los Angeles team. 

The legend, who will forever live in the hearts of Lakers fans, wore the classic yellow jersey of the most successful team with in the NBA history (17, tied with the Boston Celtics) for 20 seasons.

In his 20 years as a professional, he won five titles (three in the 99/00, 00/01 and 01/02 seasons, and two in the 08/09 and 09/10 seasons) and averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. 

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1978 and living in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 (his father was a professional basketball player who played in Rieti, Calabria, Pistoia and Reggio Emilia from 1983 to 1991), he won two NBA Finals MVP awards, was an 18-time All-Star and won two Olympic gold medals with the United States.

In one of the statues, Bryant wears the number 24, which he wore in the second half of his career, and in the third, he is accompanied by his daughter Gianna. Kobe and Gianna, a talented 13-year-old basketball player, died along with seven others in a helicopter crash northwest of Los Angeles, California, on 26 January 2020, shocking the sporting world.

The Lakers chose 8 February 2024 for the tribute because it includes the numbers of Kobe's jersey (8 and 24) and Gianna's (2). The ceremony, which took place under a huge tent with a few dozen people in attendance, was attended by other Lakers legends who also have statues in Star Plaza in front of the stadium, such as Earvin 'Magic' Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.