After months of anticipation (and technically, completion), the large 15′ x 15′ mural dedicated to the late basketball great Kobe Bryant was officially christened by the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC) on Saturday, August 21.
The superlative work was painted by Los Angeles-based artist/muralist, Jonas Never, whose experience as both a master of the brush and as a longtime Lakers fan fused together to create the one-of-a-kind work that can be found on 1020 Mission St in South Pasadena. Serving as another artistic testament amongst many around Los Angeles (several of which Never is responsible for), the mural depicting the Black Mamba’s momentous final game on April 13, 2016, will immortalize the legacy of the basketball star whose life was tragically cut short — along with 13-year-old daughter Gianna, six family friends, and pilot Ara Zobayan — in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020.
“[The] tragic and very shocking death of Kobe, in our house, was pretty astounding”, said SPARC Board Member, James Reynolds, recalling the very moment he received the devastating news of Bryant’s death. On that day, James was with wife, Lissa Reynolds — the founder of SPARC — and their son. “We were in tears,” Reynolds shared, “I’ve lived through everything from the Kennedy assassination to today and that was a moment that ranks with all of us. We were shocked and we were saddened… it was an extraordinarily emotional moment. It happened all over the world. In fact, murals were appearing [all over] by artists of all kinds, to cope with the grief and also to celebrate the life of Kobe and Gigi.”
The layers that define the work go even deeper as well, with the mural’s source of inspiration being a photo taken by longtime Basketball Hall of Fame photographer, Andrew D. Bernstein, a prolific documentarian who spent 20 years visually chronicling Bryant’s career. With his own personal studio only feet away, Bernstein, basked in the celebration and admired the monumental work of art along with a crowd of about 120 people, comprised of donors, neighbors, and Lakers fans donning Kobe jerseys and hats.
After realizing that many tributes were blossoming all over LA, it was at the behest of Michael Asner — a lifelong Lakers and Kobe Bryant fan, who runs an Instagram page and website dedicated to showcasing images of Kobe and Gianna Bryant murals — that a mural should be installed at the Mission Street complex that shared Bernstein’s studio. “Mike [Asner] reached out to Andy when he realized that so many of the murals that were painted were [based on] Andy’s photos, [but] there wasn’t a Kobe mural in our city, just a handful in our area,” said Reynolds.
What followed was the joint project commissioned by building owner Thano Adamson of Mission Tile West who “enthusiastically endorsed the idea” along with the co-sponsorship by SPARC and Bernstein.
To remember his old friend and look upon the tribute himself, was a fellow Lakers legend, Michael Cooper, who played for the team from 1978 to 1990. The five-time champ and 1987 Defensive Player of the Year served as the team’s assistant coach when Bryant was drafted, with Reynolds affectionately calling him “the sixth man” and a player “who should be in the hall of fame.” Crowd chants for “Coop” could be heard as he posed for photos with fans in front of the mural, while wearing a shirt memorializing Bryant.
Lissa Reynolds, who played an integral role in the proposal and execution of the mural, was lauded by James, who said of his wife, “She is tremendously dedicated to the arts, and the benefits the arts bring to municipalities all over the country all over the world.”
“This mural truly enhances our city, and it will do so for years to come,” Reynolds proclaimed, prior to the ceremonious lowering of the curtain. Not to be remiss, he acknowledged the tireless support of fellow SPARC board members; President Sandy Kiddo, Vice-President Dean Serwin, and Secretary Lynne Heffley. Reynolds also extended the gratitude towards Mission Tile West, as he proceeded to read off the extensive list of donors and contributors, who were “generously committed to this beautiful mural.”
Wrapping up the evening, Cooper, with vibrance and vigor, made his rounds amongst the crowd, dragging anyone and everyone into one-on-one dance sessions to the peerless rhythms and sounds of the Jaz Sawyer Jazz Trio as the sun set on a momentous day.