In LA, Kobe dominates the paint

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In LA, Kobe dominates the paint
Rapper Desiigner, left, and two others visit a mural by artist Mr Brainwash featuring Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, in Los Angeles, Feb. 12, 2020. In a city where street life happens largely privately in cars, residents speak of their loss of a favorite son through art and graffiti in public places throughout the region. Ryan Young/The New York Times.

by Walter Thompson-Hernández

LOS ANGELES (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna are gone but not forgotten.

You can see their images in Long Beach, in Artesia, in downtown Los Angeles and in Venice Beach. A complicated figure during his playing days, Kobe has ignited a surge of emotion in death. The city’s walls have never spoken so loudly.

Like so many others, I grew up during one of Los Angeles’ most cherished basketball eras and was first exposed to the game by the dynamism of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the mid-1980s. These superstars injected the city with hope and promise. During those years, purple and gold was ever-present on freeway ramps, playgrounds and city walls.

Years later, a teenage phenom named Kobe Bryant came on the scene, an enigmatic talent who would become a part of the city’s life for the next 20 years.

Many of the murals memorializing Kobe document milestone moments from his career. Championships, record-breaking performances, and poignant times with his daughter. This history is now deeply etched into the city’s artscape.

Los Angeles has a history of street art, from graffiti to towering multicolor murals. Expressing their grief at Kobe’s passing, many street artists have drawn inspiration from Judith Baca, Eliseo Art Silva and other celebrated artists who helped to establish a vibrant culture using the streets as their canvas.

I once met Kobe during a pickup basketball game on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. We played against one another for a couple of hours and afterward we walked together to his car. We were escorted by police officers and a large number of clamoring fans. It was surreal.

There is still a collective sadness that looms over the city. Staples Center, where thousands are expected to gather for a memorial Monday, has removed the flowers, basketballs and jerseys left for him. All we have now are the memories, the titles he brought to the city — and the murals wherever one looks.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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