As a founding donor of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the late Kobe Bryant urged his Twitter followers to visit the museum in 2016 by tweeting, “There is no greater testament to this country than the stories in this building.”
The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation also contributed at least $1 million to NMAAHC, and in 2017, Bryant donated his 2008 Lakers jersey to the museum. Now that jersey is on display in the “Sport: Leveling the Playing Field” gallery at the NMAAHC to honor Bryant’s legacy. The exhibit officially launched on October 15th.
“For us at the NMAAHC, Kobe holds a very special place in our hearts,” NMAAHC interim director Spencer Crew said shortly after Kobe’s untimely death.
“In the very critical stages of building the museum, Kobe and Vanessa Bryant became founding donors, giving us the boost that we needed to keep moving forward,” Crew continued. “Kobe also had the opportunity to visit the museum before its opening. He was so moved by the experience that he later donated his uniform jersey from the 2008 NBA Finals, the year he was named the league MVP.”
The jersey is white with yellow panels and purple piping and accents. It features a sewn design across the front reading “Lakers/24” and on the back reading “Bryant/24.” The NBA logo is embroidered on the left shoulder.
The display text accompanying the Bryant jersey reads: “In 1996, Kobe Bryant became the first guard to successfully make the leap from high school to the National Basketball Association. At the time, experts were skeptical that high school wing players could compete in the NBA. His success ushered in the modern era of younger players in the league.”
“Kobe’s contributions on and off the court are remarkable,” Crew said. “As a founding donor, he understood the significance of this museum to the nation and the world. After postponing the March installation due to COVID-19, we believe now is the perfect moment in history to honor his memory by placing his jersey on view.”
As a five-time NBA champion, Bryant earned the NBA MVP in 2008 and NBA Finals MVP awards in 2009 and 2010 with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he spent his entire NBA career. Bryant was also part of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team that won gold medals in 2008 and 2012.
The basketball icon’s life was tragically cut short in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. Shortly after, the museum shared that in addition to the jersey, Kobe also donated a 2002 photograph that finds the rising star lounging on a couch in a Manhattan apartment. The photograph has been on display since late January.
Bryant’s jersey will be on view next to a pair of LeBron James’ 15 “Equality” sneakers by Nike.