USA TODAY Sports is marking the first anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others with a six-day series of stories, photos and videos looking back at the Lakers legend and the aftermath of his death.
LOS ANGELES — Close to midnight one day last week, a jogger stopped in the middle of a downtown street and surveyed a peculiar scene.
A video compilation of Kobe Bryant highlights was being projected onto the side of a four-story building.
Two homeless people were sleeping on the sidewalk, oblivious to the footage of Bryant’s drives, dunks and game-winning shots. They were unaware of a man spraying blue paint on the side of the wall.
Even in the dim lighting, the jogger could tell this was not a delinquent defacing a building that is a notorious target for graffiti.
This was part of a phenomenon displayed on walls across Southern California, the rest of the United States and in more than 30 countries that include Uganda, Haiti and Croatia.
Murals of Kobe Bryant have spread worldwide to honor his legacy and influence
Hundreds of Kobe Bryant murals have been created since his passing one year ago, shining light on his legacy as an NBA player, father and innovator.
Sandy Hooper, USA TODAY
Hundreds of murals have been painted in honor of Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers star, and Gianna, his 13-year-old daughter better known as Gigi, along with seven other people who died in a helicopter crash almost a year ago — Jan. 26, 2020.
Tehrell Porter, who was working on a Kobe Bryant mural about a mile from Staples Center as midnight approached, took a break to talk to the onlooker. The jogger explained he is part of a group that every Monday runs 8.24 miles — a nod to Bryant’s jersey numbers, 8 and 24 — on a route featuring Bryant murals.
There are more than three dozen of them within walking distance of Staples Center, where Bryant starred for the Lakers for 20 seasons.
“I’m still trying to grasp it,’’ Jonas Never, a street artist in Los Angeles, said of the mural madness. “I’ve never seen an outpouring of public art of anyone in the history of the world.’’
It has been driven in part by economics.
For example, Porter said he flew from his home in Hawaii to Los Angeles after being contracted by Neman Brothers & Associates, a fabric company that hoped a Bryant mural would deter so-called taggers from covering the wall with graffiti.
Efren Andaluz, a street artist from New York, came to Southern California to paint a mural for a restaurant owner.
Many artists painted multiple murals, according to Never, who in 2015 painted one of the first murals of Bryant in Los Angeles.
“Some people did it for paint and time,” he said. “Some people did it just out of pocket. I’m sure some people did it for huge money.”
No one understands the scope of the mural phenomenon like Mike Asner does. He created kobemural.com, which includes a map accompanied by photos and location of more than 400 murals.
“There are many more than that,” Asner said. “There are probably murals in every corner of the world that I don’t know about.”
He is a lifelong Lakers fan from Los Angeles who considered Bryant a hero and has found new heroes — the artists who have painted the murals.
“A lot of them have Mamba mentality,’’ Asner said, referring to Bryant’s mantra for his relentless work ethic that’s evident around Los Angeles and beyond.
Jules Muck, a street artist who once angered Larry Bird by painting a mural of him with tattoos he does not have, said her phone started ringing not long after Los Angeles County officials confirmed reports of Bryant’s death.
“There was this girl, she goes by Miss Crazy, and she was just like, ‘I know you’re going to paint him,’ ” Muck said. “And I was just like, ‘Yeah, on the spot, I’ll do it right now.’ And she just walked outside her house to a corner store and asked them if I could paint it and he said yeah.”
Just like that, Muck said, she was driving to Pickford Market, a corner grocery store, with necessary supplies: ladder, air brushes and about a dozen cans of spray paint.
“And during the ride over there is when I heard Gigi was with (Bryant)” in the helicopter crash, Muck said. “And so that formulated the plan.”
The wall she was cleared to paint included other street art. But Muck found enough room for a portrait of Bryant and Gigi, both smiling, and a banner that reads, “Forever Daddy’s Girl.”
Working at fast-break speed, Muck took less than 90 minutes to complete the mural, during which residents from the neighborhood gathered.
“By the time I finished, like, we were all crying,’’ she said. “Super intense.
“I did end up giving people some hugs. Obviously this was before COVID, so people were coming up and saying thank you.”
A day later, as word of her mural spread, Muck’s Instagram page followers jumped from 50,000 to 90,000, she said.
“There were so many people asking me to paint more, to the point where I was getting upset because I was painting a memorial everyday,’’ Muck said, acknowledging she got paid for most of the murals. “I painted like nine in a row, and I said, ‘I can’t focus on this anymore, the death thing,’ and so I did hold off for another month or so before one of the last ones I painted.
“A lot I handed off to other artists and spread it around. I mean, everyone wanted him and wanted to be commemorating him.”
Muck said the public’s fervor for Kobe reminded her of the death of rock star David Bowie on Jan. 10, 2016.
“I think there’s just some people that are so inspiring that they are more than themselves,’’ Muck said. “They’re ideas that people believe in. And so their image becomes a statement, and Kobe was like LA. And the good part of LA, the thing people were so proud of.’’
Across the street from the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, Efren Andaluz painted a massive mural of Bryant and Gigi just days after their death. Soon after, he heard from a man representing the owner of a restaurant who was seeking something special on one of the exterior walls.
He wanted a mural that included not just Kobe and Gigi, but the seven other victims in the helicopter crash.
“He was like, ‘Hey, can you actually put them on the wall?’ ” Andaluz said. “And I was like, ‘Yo, that would be a dope idea. That’s great. Where are you guys located?’ And he’s like, ‘Costa Mesa.’ And I’m like what the heck is a Costa Mesa?”
Costa Mesa is a town of 16,840 in Orange County and each of the victims lived within 10 miles of the restaurant, SOCIAL Costa Mesa, owned by Andrew Dorsey.
“I always loved Kobe and the Mamba mentality,’’ Dorsey said. “I was talking to my wife and I said, ‘You know, if we’re going to do this mural, why not represent all the families that were in the actual crash who all pretty much lived five to seven miles from our restaurant.
“I felt they were kind of getting sunned out, getting eclipsed by Kobe’s celebrity.”
So Dorsey began searching online for the right artist before zeroing in on Andaluz, a diehard Lakers fan despite living in New York. Dorsey said he spent $9,000, which included Andaluz’s fee, materials and a round-trip ticket from New York.
“It wasn’t only about the (money),” Andaluz said. “It was also about the opportunity to leave a mark in Cali.”
The mural was unveiled on Feb. 24, the day of Bryant’s memorial that was held at Staples Center.
Approximately 50 people visited that day and 10 to 20 have visited every day since, said Dorsey, who also acknowledged that two people accused him of profiting off Bryant’s death by using the mural to attract patrons to his restaurant.
But Dorsey pointed out the restaurant has been closed because of COVID-19 restrictions, and he said that made it difficult to come up with the $9,000.
“But we knew it was something we had to do,’’ he said of the mural. “Something like that is timeless. It’s forever.’’
In September, at home in Kailua, Hawaii, Tehrell Porter was checking out the listings on beautifyearth.com, which matches muralists with customers.
Bingo: Neman Brothers & Associates Inc., a textile company headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, was looking for a massive Kobe mural to cover three sides of its building often plastered with graffiti.
Porter, 30, negotiated a budget of $9,000, of which almost $2,000 went to beautifyearth.com, without fully understanding the challenges or the amount of time it would take.
Ten days into the project in October, Porter arrived at the building to discover graffiti covering his partially finished work.
He said he tracked down the kids responsible for it and persuaded them to stop. Since then he’s tried different kinds of community outreach, including holding weekly painting lessons where children get a chance to help paint the mural, and arranging for a DJ and taco truck.
Every night, Porter said, he projects movies — and sometimes Bryant highlights — on the side of the building.
Now, he said, someone in the neighborhood buys him lunch nearly everyday.
But the challenges have continued.
When the budget proved too small, he was kicked out of his Airbnb because he couldn’t pay the rent and then moved in with a friend, according to Porter.
He had to take side jobs to earn the money he needed to send home to his pregnant wife and their two young children.
“I can eat at Jack in the Box every day, but my kids need food,’’ he said.
One day when he was almost broke, Porter said, a butterfly landed on the air brush he was using. Not long after, the owner from a marijuana dispensary across the street offered him $4,200 for signage work and gave Porter a place to store his equipment.
Then Porter found a photograph that shows Bryant has a butterfly tattoo on his right shoulder.
“There’s been some supernatural (stuff) going on,’’ Porter said.
Still, he said he has had to draw on Bryant’s perseverance and determination, regularly working 16 hours or more a day.
Asner said the mural, which will cover three sides of the four-story building, might be the longest in Southern California. Porter said he has used more than 100 gallons of paint and expects to use about 300 gallons before completing the project, likely by the middle of February.
But as midnight approached one day last week, Porter stood back and surveyed a section of the mural.
“Man, I really love how this is coming out,’’ he said. “I’m so excited because you’re sharing this with all of LA and all of the world at some point.’’
Krnsa-Dasa Perez, a street artist in Los Angeles, painted a mural of Kobe and Gigi that he said took about 48 hours — about twice as long as it would’ve taken under different circumstances.
“Half the time I was talking and half the time I was painting,’’ he said.
He set down his spray gun when Bryant fans stopped to talk about the mural and their favorite basketball player. One of the visitors was homeless.
“He sat there and admired me painting for a second and then asked if he could talk to me for a little bit,’’ said Perez, 37. “We got to talking and he told me how much he admired Kobe and how (Bryant) was trying to do something for the homeless of Los Angeles, and he said, ‘Do you ever stop and think why they left together?’
“And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You know, Kobe and Gigi, they left at the same time. Like did you ever think they were like kindred souls that go different places and do wonderful things together? And what if they came to this planet to do their service and their service was finished? You know, they did great things here on this planet and was it their time to go to another world or dimension and do great things there?’ ”
“I was like, yo, what if I paint them and it kind of looks like they’re in space, kind of like manifesting in the middle of the cosmos,’’ Perez said, and that is exactly what he did.
Not only is it one of the most interesting murals in Los Angeles, it also is one of the most unlikely.
The painter said he served seven years in prison for robbery committed while under the influence of meth. Staying free of trouble, he is now a professional artist who painted his first public mural when he memorialized Kobe and Gigi for the auto detailer who owns the building.
“It’s a complete 180,” he said.
In an alley less than a mile from Staples Center, hundreds of fans grieving Bryant’s death have congregated at a mural showing Bryant in celebration. The mural was painted in 2015 by Jonas Never and much of it is now covered by messages scrawled in permanent marker.
“You hear about it and you think it’s going to be someone from the neighborhood writing graffiti on the wall,’’ said Never, 38. “So when I saw it was like, ‘We love you, Kobe. We miss you,’ like that kind of stuff. I was like, ‘OK, there’s something to it.’
The building owner called and asked if Never wanted to clean up the mural and paint over the messages.
“And we declined,” Never said. “People from all over the world I’m sure have written on it. That definitely shows the power, what public art and memorial murals and Kobe in particular murals can be.”
Never said he painted the mural “fully illegal.’’ Meaning he did not get permission to paint the side of the building, although it’s become a prized piece of art.
After Bryant’s death, Never said, he was contracted to paint another mural — with confetti raining down on Bryant — at the nearby Grand Central Market food court. He said he got paid enough to compensate him for his time and materials and that the situation probably varied for each muralist.
“I’d say a lot of people did it for free and a lot of people did it for money,’’ he said. “I don’t mind people making money off it. If you’re spending that much time on it for free, I think that’s sometimes when people start cutting corners or trying to bang it out. Because you can’t afford to spend the time you should be able to if you’re doing it out of pocket.
“Paint’s expensive, time’s expensive, travel’s expensive. We live in an expensive world.’’
Like the motivations of the artists, Never also said the quality of the art varied.
“There are some that don’t look like Kobe,’’ he said. “I’ve seen one that looks like RuPaul, one that looks like Metta World Peace. But if these are done by fans who are doing it because they love Kobe or they want to pay their respects, I don’t care about your talents.
“But if you’re trying to capitalize on it or do it for the wrong reasons and it still comes out garbage, shame on you for trying to do something like that.’’
Recently, Never said, he was driving to the paint store and within a mile came across three Bryant murals he’d never seen before.
“It’s literally mind blowing,’’ he said. “It’s really cool that Kobe inspired such a movement. It could just be his Mamba mentality.’’