A GOAT in the grass: Bay Area couple crafts turf tribute to Kobe Bryant

(Kelli Pearson / New Ground Technology)

As memorials to Kobe Bryant continue to spread across the country and around the globe, an ephemeral tribute cropped up Wednesday in an unlikely place.

A Bay Area couple took to the turf to memorialize the basketball star, who was killed Sunday along with eight others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.

The 115-foot-tall, 92-foot-wide turf tribute — showing a smiling, jersey-clad Bryant holding a basketball — was created at a park in Pleasanton, near where creators Pete Davis and Kelli Pearson live.

Despite appearances, the image wasn’t cut into the field. It was imprinted Wednesday with a machine from the couple’s company, New Ground Technology, that uses streams of air to bend the grass and create dark and light contrasts.

The resulting imprints are visible from above and can last a few days.


Davis seemed taken aback by how much attention the Bryant mural has attracted.

“It was a genuine effort that’s really being recognized in the right light,” he said Friday.

While the company has done a number of such imprints — its online project gallery shows everything from MLB team logos to an emblem for the Lagunitas Brewing Co. — this one was personal.

Pearson, a Bryant fan, got to work designing the image shortly after learning of the crash, which also killed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, baseball coach John Altobelli and his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, and pilot Ara Zobayan.

“This is going to be something I can give back,” Pearson said she recalled thinking. “Certainly it’s not as big as the personality he was, but it’s as big as we could do on that field.”

A Pleasanton couple created a mural of Kobe Bryant using a machine that bends the grass to create light and dark contrasts.
(Kelli Pearson / New Ground Technology)

She stitched the mural’s image together from four pictures. She said she wanted to craft something that highlighted not only details of Bryant’s physical appearance, but his character, as well.

“There were pictures of him laughing. There were pictures of him with more of a serious face, like the strong player, but I wanted something that really captured his personality,” she said. “And the kind of subtle smile was awesome.”

New Ground Technology’s machine, called the TurfPrinter, then translated the image onto the field.

“The machine uses, in a layman’s sense, GPS — telling the machine exactly where it’s at so it knows where to print,” Davis said.

He said he felt a kind of obligation to bring the mural to life.

“I’m the caretaker of this technology, this machine that creates incredibly large graphics, and it’s a perfect platform for the tribute,” he said. “Really, it’s my responsibility to do this.”

Though the imprint is gone, wiped away by routine maintenance at the park, it appears to have made a lasting impact.

“There are people reaching out from all over the world to us … thanking us for doing such an amazing tribute,” Pearson said. “That’s overwhelming. I can’t ever explain how that makes me feel.”