LOS ANGELES — On the day of Kobe Bryant’s death in Jan. 2020, the plaza outside of Crypto.com Arena overflowed with people. Fans placed tributes everywhere. Flowers covered the ground. Tears replaced words.
A stunned silence overcame the venue’s entertainment complex as it offered a place for Bryant fans to pay their respects and grieve together. In the hours and days after his passing, Los Angeles Lakers and Bryant fans found comfort in another avenue — art.
In a Miami neighborhood, Gustavo Zermeño Jr. painted Bryant twice. One mural depicted Mamba side-by-side with Dwyane Wade, the other with the Lakers legend dribbling alone.
In Brooklyn, Efren Andaluz painted a mural of Bryant and his daughter Gianna in front of Barclays Center — the last road arena where the father and daughter watched an NBA game. Andaluz also included the names of everyone that died in the helicopter crash that took Bryant and Gianna’s lives.
Set on a wall with graded gates at an intersection near the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station, one of the busiest subways in Brooklyn, people loved it.
“People would come in, they would talk to me about Kobe, how much he meant to them, his mentality,” Andaluz told ESPN. “Some people were like well, why am I putting Kobe there? And then other people just understood, like it’s Kobe. Kobe can go wherever he wants to go.”
Minutes away from Crypto.com Arena, Louie Palsino worked on a mural of Bryant and Gianna with angel wings attached to their bodies.
Fans from across the world came to watch Palsino paint. They brought him food and Bryant gear as they remembered the former Laker through their tears. One of Palsino’s friends thanked him for what he was doing for the city.
“People came and were crying and I sat there and talked with ’em and I shared the pain with them,” Palsino told ESPN. “It was different, man. There’ll never be nothing like that again, man.”
Four years since Bryant’s death, a statue will be unveiled in his honor in front of Crypto.com Arena on Thursday. It will be yet another tribute to a legacy that people around the world have worked tirelessly to uphold.
THOUGH THERE WERE murals of Bryant before 2020 — especially in Los Angeles — they took off around the world after his death. People often shared them on social media, but mostly without crediting the artist or including the location.
Mike, who declined to provide his last name, decided to start an Instagram page (@kobemural) to make it easier for fans to find the murals. A lifelong Lakers and Bryant fan, he began organizing them on a map and including pinpoint locations in case people wanted to visit.
As Mike posted more on social media, he eventually created a free website, which expanded to different continents around the world. As of Feb. 6, the map has 639 murals with 6.4 million total viewers.
“It’s really been inspiring to see what these artists are doing,” Mike told ESPN. And I just want to play some small part in giving back to the community and the Bryant family.
Communities and artists have helped sustain Bryant’s legacy around the world. While there are 459 total murals in the United States, with 342 in Southern California alone, there are also 180 internationally. A mural even resides in Boston, home of the Lakers’ rival Boston Celtics.
Confirming the locations in Los Angeles was easy, but pinpointing them in places internationally wasn’t as simple.
Mike would receive an email or message on Instagram about a mural someone had seen, prompting a back-and-forth exchange that included photos of the art and confirmation of the location to ensure that if someone visited it, they would find it.
For that reason, Mike emphasized that his Instagram account is a community-sourced project that wouldn’t be possible without the fans.
There may not have been a stronger example of the community banding together than last September. Mike heard from a Los Angeles business owner about the possibility of Palsino’s mural being removed.
Mike started a petition to support the mural staying up, which garnered over 90,000 signatures. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, shared it on social media. The mural now remains, and for Palsino and Mike, it exemplified how much the murals mean to Bryant fans.
“People made it very clear in that petition that these are important to the cities. These are important to the fans,” Mike said. “And still to this day people go and pay respect and they appreciate more than anything Kobe and Gianna and the artist.”
Palsino — @sloe_motions on social media — said he has painted at least 40 murals of the Lakers legend. But the one of Bryant and Gianna stands as one of his more famous pieces.
Palsino decided to honor Bryant with a mural immediately after his death, likening it to Superman dying when you’re a kid. He felt prepared to pour his heart out into “how much I cared for him, the family and just what he did for LA.”
“As soon as I heard it, I was more in shock and it was either sit in depression and sit in sadness or get up and do something about it, you know?” Palsino said. “And help heal people through the art that I do and help express our feelings through the paintings.”
Waiting for clearance on a wall near Crypto.com Arena, Palsino painted another mural until he heard back from a business owner about the opportunity. Except for gridding a partial piece of the face, he freehanded the rest without any projections or grids.
People from all over the world came to watch him paint the mural, which lives half a mile away from Crypto.com Arena.
“That mural became such a big monument to L.A.,” Palsino said.
THE MURAL IN BROOKLYN painted by Andaluz, a native New Yorker, brought him new attention.
In preparation for the celebration of life on Feb. 24, 2020, SOCIAL, a restaurant in Costa Mesa, California, contacted him about painting a mural that included the faces of everyone who had lost their lives in the helicopter accident. He agreed and flew across the country to complete the project, becoming the first person to paint all of the victims on a wall.
During the six days he spent painting, Andaluz met family members and friends of the people who were lost. Passerbys would stop and tell a story about Mamba — how he didn’t live far from there and would get coffee and talk to people.
“That wall had a lot of mixed emotions,” Andaluz said. “But that was one of my favorite pieces just because I know that it was a space where everyone that had passed away and their families could be memorialized and they could be appreciated.”
Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has painted Bryant more times than he can recall. He was en route to LAX for a work trip to Miami when the Lakers legend passed away and chose to swiftly pay homage to him with a mural in South Beach.
Zermeño and his friend sketched an idea on his iPad, but, working in Miami, they wanted to do something that fit the community. This idea led to the inclusion of Miami Heat legend Wade.
For Zermeño, painting the murals was all about brightening people’s days and giving them a place to heal or meet to talk Bryant.
Mike highlighted that the murals have been therapeutic, creating ways for people to express themselves and grieve collectively.
“In their area of the world, if there’s a mural to go see and kind of have a moment and pay respect, that’s pretty impactful and meaningful for those people,” he said.
That love reached all the way to Melbourne, Australia, just over 7,900 miles away from Los Angeles.
Basketball wasn’t a huge part of Danielle Weber’s life growing up. But Weber, also known as @daniellesartwork on social media, found inspiration in Bryant’s storytelling and relentless dedication to his craft.
The former Lakers star impacted her after she read “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” Bryant’s book released in 2018. A client gifted it to her a couple of years after she painted a Bryant canvas for them.
“I was like, ‘OK, wow, this is crazy …’ And more so just the advocacy for women [in sport] as well that he was doing,” Weber told ESPN.
She had painted a few canvases of Bryant prior to his death, but never a mural. There are more Bryant fans than she anticipated in Melbourne, and many people often asked her for a life-sized painting.
Similar to other artists, she wanted to choose the location and timing carefully, especially with Bryant because “it’s such a sensitive and powerful subject.”
“I was really shocked with how many people hit me up to celebrate him, which was beautiful,” Weber said.
In October 2023, she finally found the right time and space, using a wall in a Melbourne gym to paint an iconic image of Bryant tugging at his jersey that took five 12-hour days.
Weber described the reception as “insane” and “beautiful” with Vanessa Bryant commenting on it. People worldwide reached out to her too, sharing stories about how Bryant impacted them in various ways.
WHILE DARK DAYS followed his death, some instead focused on what Bryant would have done.
“Kobe wouldn’t have stopped, he would’ve kept going,” Zermeño said. “I think that was my mentality and I’m sure a lot of people were like, ‘Oh s—, it’s go time, this is real. Nothing’s guaranteed, tomorrow’s not guaranteed, you have to get after your s— now.'”
Andaluz doubled down.
As an artist, he said that it’s his goal to heal and inspire other people. But a certain energy filled the air after Bryant died that impacted artists themselves. It focused on the Mamba Mentality.
“That same energy source that Kobe had, it was that same kind of drive, like alright, now we’re going to have to take it up a notch,” Andaluz said. “I thought I was doing good before but we’re going to have to keep that same Mamba Mentality.”
Palsino noticed it too, emphasizing that it brought out so many artists and gave everybody the confidence to go out and paint Bryant. That inspiration became the reason for many murals popping up after his passing, serving as a way to further carry on his legacy.
Some artists who would reach out to Mike didn’t even care about basketball, but still found themselves inspired because of either Bryant’s mentality, work ethic or advocacy for women’s sports, like Weber. Others were inspired simply because he was a girl dad.
All of those factors led to an outpouring of love through art.
Many had their careers blow up too, especially those in Los Angeles. Since Mike’s Instagram page shared their work, it gave artists exposure and more gigs followed. Regular artists turned into superstars.
“That’s the only positive thing I can think of here is [Bryant’s] legacy and Gianna’s legacy will continue,” Mike said. “And it’s our job as people and fans to honor the family but also to continue to champion the legacy. And that’s what these artists are doing and the artists deserve all the credit.”
A mural Palsino painted of Bryant and Gianna appeared in a Super Bowl LVI commercial with Vanessa. Zermeño’s mural of Bryant and Wade appeared in a pregame commercial for Super Bowl LV.
“It was after he passed, it was that Mamba Mentality [that] changed people,” Andaluz said. “Now you have all these artists that weren’t known now that [are] super huge artists. Why? Because they were inspired by Kobe Bryant.”
Just like his statue in front of Crypto.com Arena will continue to do.