Vanessa Bryant helped design Kobe’s special Hall of Fame exhibit
Kobe Bryant’s NBA career was like few others before him — and so is the way the Lakers star will be remembered within the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame upon his posthumous induction Saturday.
For only the second time in its history, the hall has created a stand-alone space for an enshrined member in the form of an exhibit dubbed, “Kobe: A Basketball Life.”
The only other Hall of Famer honored in similar fashion was Michael Jordan, whose exhibit opened in 2009 and ran for five years.
At 600 square feet, the Bryant exhibit “is about 600 square feet more than any other Hall of Famer gets,” said John Doleva, the hall’s president and chief executive. Its run is open-ended.
With little suspense that Bryant would be a first-ballot selection when eligible in 2020, plans to construct an exhibit honoring his career had been underway for at least two years before his January 2020 death, Doleva said.
The result is a space that Matt Zeysing, the hall’s historian and curator, feels is as reflective as it is celebratory, with design that reflects input from Vanessa Bryant.
“It’s like you’re immersing yourself in Kobe’s life, but there is this feeling of the future about Kobe,” Doleva said. “It makes you contemplate what could have been.”
Built with sponsorship by trading-card company Panini America, the exhibit will include portions of the court at Lower Merion High in Pennsylvania, where Bryant leaped from high-school star to the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft; replicas of the five championship rings he won with the Lakers during his 20-year career; the sneakers he wore while scoring a career-high 81 points in 2006; and a highlight video. In addition, “Dear Basketball,” Bryant’s Oscar-winning 2017 animated short film, will play.
“Vanessa really wanted the space partly to be reflective, and so ‘Dear Basketball’ brings that part in,” Zeysing said. “… She wanted a space for if someone wanted to just reflect for longer than even 30 minutes that they would have the opportunity to do that.”
Sharing rare company with Jordan is an appropriate cap for a career in which Bryant compared himself to, and found competitive motivation from, the iconic Chicago Bulls guard. Bonded by an extreme competitive nature, the two eventually grew close. Following Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash that killed eight others, including Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, Jordan described the 41-year-old Bryant as “my dear friend — he was like a little brother,” during a eulogy during a public memorial last year at Staples Center.
Jordan will also serve as Bryant’s presenter during Saturday’s induction in Springfield, Mass. The nine-person class also includes big men Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, coach Rudy Tomjanovich and WNBA star Tamika Catchings.
Bryant’s exhibit is part of a larger, $25-million renovation of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that opens Sunday for the first time. By replacing the “sepia-toned plaques and two, maybe 2½ paragraphs of information” formerly given to each inductee, Doleva believes visitors will leave with a deeper sense of an inductee’s career through the combination of more technology alongside physical artifacts previously on display.
“You’re now able to walk up to a 55-inch monitor kiosk and really do a deep, deep dive on Kobe with pictures and video from all aspects of his career and ‘Mamba’ and whatever else,” Doleva said. “It really is much more obviously immersive, much more engaging. And I think we have an obligation also to educate, so while people know a lot about Kobe, I think they can learn a lot about other players that went before Kobe.”
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