Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers jersey from the 2008 NBA Finals is now on display in Washington D.C. following his death in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash. The uniform top is part of the "Sports: Leveling the Playing Field" display at The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Bryant's jersey sits next to LeBron James' "Equality" sneakers created by Nike.
"Kobe’s contributions on and off the court are remarkable," said Spencer Crew, interim director of the NMAAHC. "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." Bryant previously showed his support for the NMAAHC during his life, posting about the museum in 2016 and donating at least $1 million through the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.
According to the NMAAHC, the jersey in question is white with yellow panels and purple piping and accents. Bryant's name and No. 24 numbers adorn the top, as does the NBA logo. There is accompanying text next to the jersey that describes Bryant's impact on the league and future players.
"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," the display reads.
Bryant earned the 2008 NBA MVP award after leading the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. He had previously finished third in the MVP voting twice but had never earned the honor despite being the league's leading scorer. Bryant finally broke through en route to an NBA Finals matchup against the Boston Celtics.
While Bryant and the Lakers found success during the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs, they struggled during the Finals series against the Celtics. The team from Boston won the first two games, as well as the fourth. However, the Lakers won the third and fifth games to set up a pivotal matchup. The Celtics ultimately won the sixth game and secured the championship.
Bryant returned to the NBA Finals in 2008-09 and 2009-10, finding considerably more success. The Lakers won the championship each season, giving him five total for his career. Bryant later retired after the 2016 season, marking the end of a Hall of Fame career