All Magic Johnson could do was laugh when he talked about how competitive Kobe Bryant was about everything.
So, if Johnson has a statue outside Crypto.com Arena and Michael Jordan has a statue outside the United Center where the Chicago Bulls play, the Magic Man said, he knows what Kobe “Bean” Bryant would have said.
“They got a statue,” Johnson said. “Then I want a statue too.”
Johnson laughed again, his voice filled with pride because that day has come.
Bryant will have his statue unveiled Thursday outside the Lakers’ arena. He will join fellow Lakers legends Johnson, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor and Chick Hearn to be immortalized with the honor.
Bryant idolized Johnson and Jordan, two prominent figures in his basketball odyssey. Johnson won five NBA championships, all with the Lakers, the only team he played for. Bryant won all five of his titles with the Lakers, the only team he played for.
Of course, Jordan topped them both, winning six with the Bulls.
“Kobe was into, ‘I want my jersey hanging up there. I want a statue. I want to play great enough so I can have those things too.’ That’s what he was about,” Johnson said. “‘I want to win just as many as Magic and Michael. They got a statue. I want a statue. They got their jersey retired. I want my jersey retired. They are in the Hall of Fame. I want to be in the Hall of Fame. OK, they are businessmen. I’m going to be a great businessman, just as great as they are.’
“So, the beautiful thing is you had myself and Michael as the driving forces so Kobe can say, ‘Hey, I want to do it like them, but even better than them.’”
The most painful thing for Johnson is that Bryant is not around to express his gratitude and give his speech.
Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash four years ago.
“So, you already know that moment on Thursday would have been special and he would have given one of the most amazing speeches,” Johnson said. “You know that. He probably would have studied all of our speeches — mine and Michael’s — and topped it.”
Johnson was the first Laker to get a statue at what was then Staples Center in 2004. It meant Johnson had done so much for the team. The same goes for Bryant, he said.
“Just like for me, it meant everything,” Johnson said. “It meant that I did it right. You played the game right. You excelled at the game. And then the No. 1 thing is you won championships in that purple and gold. So, I think for him to play for one franchise, one franchise only, for the Lakers, and to be as close as he was to both Dr. Jerry Buss first and then Jeanie second … and winning the five NBA championships. Just every night destroying the opponent, having games that we’re still talking about today. … So, for him I think it would have been something that’s just, really the close for me, in terms of his legacy.”
Johnson laughed again, saying how he remembered Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
He recalled how Bryant had 60 points in his final game as a Laker against the Utah Jazz in 2016.
He remembers how driven Bryant was to beat Boston in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010, a revenge moment for the Lakers after losing to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals.
There were so many great moments, Johnson said, that he just wishes Bryant were still alive to talk about them during Thursday’s ceremony.
“It’ll be emotional for everybody,” Johnson said. “Kobe was just special. He had that type of effect on people. The man who he was, the leader and we already know the basketball player. He was a basketball genius. But he meant so much to the basketball world, to the community, to people idolizing him from all over the world. And what he’s done and did for women’s sports.
“So, this will be emotional for everybody, because we wish he was still with us and present at the unveiling of his statue, which is well deserved. I know that everybody will be feeling the same way. They just wish he was still with us.”