S otheby’s is proud to present ZENITH, a two-part curated auction paying homage to a variety of athletes whose careers have reached unparalleled success. Led by this iconic Kobe Bryant jersey, the auctions feature a variety of athletes who have had deep and lasting impact on their respective sports. From Michael Jordan to Roger Federer to Connor McDavid and Stephen Curry, the auctions feature a host of items many of which are fresh to market.
This particular jersey has seeped into our global popular culture in a way that perhaps no other sports artifact has before – and has become iconic and synonymous with the image of Kobe Bryant.
On April 23, 2008 in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round against the Denver Nuggets, with 5 minutes and 22 seconds on the clock, Kobe sank a 3 pointer securing the Lakers a 14 point lead, the largest point differential of the night. The images taken following the shot, of Kobe screaming and pumping his chest in elation, have become perhaps the most iconic images of Kobe ever taken.
The raw passion captured in the photos has inspired artists and designers all over the world.
From the United States, to Canada, Italy, Sudan, The United Arab Emirates, India, France, Spain, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Australia this jersey is featured in countless murals depicting Kobe Bryant. In California alone, there are over 15 murals depicting Kobe in this jersey, with wings, American flags, and snakes in the background. The lot is offered with a collection of photographs by photographer Greg Cohen, who has captured the pervasiveness of the image throughout the city of Los Angeles.
Perhaps the most visited Kobe Bryant mural is the Los Angeles-based “Los Angeles Culture” painting by artist Jonas Never located near the former Staples Center. In that mural Kobe dons this jersey – with countless fan signatures and well-wishes drawn upon the same wall. When Kobe was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame selected this moment to put on the program and VIP Passes for the evening, featuring Kobe wearing this jersey. The Los Angeles Times’ tribute book “Kobe | The Storied Career of a Lakers Icon” features this jersey on the cover. Kobe posted the moment to his own Instagram on October 11, 2013 with the caption “On our way China!!” It was the first solo, in-game image Kobe posted to Instagram.
From tattoos inked on to fans’ arms, to paintings, tickets, newspapers and t-shirts (LeBron James was spotted wearing a t-shirt with this jersey on it going into Game 4 of the 2020 NBA Finals), the jersey has seeped its way into the global popular zeitgeist and has become synonymous with “The Mamba Mentality.”
MVP Trophy Presentation & Heavy Wear
On May 7, 2008 the Los Angeles Staples Center arena reverberated as fans chanted, “MVP! MVP!” David Stern, the NBA Commissioner, was about to anoint Kobe with what would become his sole NBA MVP award, an award that he perhaps had worked harder than any other athlete to achieve. Kobe, speaking to the sold-out crowd of approximately 20,000 fans, smiled and said, “I’m so thankful and you know… I just… I am lost for words. I don’t know what to say.” The crowd erupted. He added, “I love you guys so much. It’s been 11, 12 years. We still got many more years to go.” His voice rising, “We going to play until June. I love you. Now, lets get this party started.” That night, as he claimed victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals scoring 34 points, Kobe wore this jersey. He would wear this jersey again, posing for his official portrait with his newly bestowed MVP award.
This jersey was worn by Kobe Bryant at the peak of his powers, during his only MVP season, for an astounding 25 games spread throughout an 8-month period. From Lakers Media Day on October 1, 2007 until the conclusion of the Western Conference Finals on May 29, 2008 this jersey was worn in 5 pre-season games, 14 regular season games, and 6 playoff games. Sports artifacts with this type of long-term, heavy wear are a rarity in the collecting space, with many modern items worn for a single game. Kobe Bryant scored 645 points in this jersey.
This is the only gold jersey Kobe wore in the 2008 NBA Playoffs leading to the 2008 NBA Finals, including when the Lakers were crowned Western Conference Champions. In this jersey, Kobe advanced to the 2008 NBA Finals for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal was traded from the Lakers. This was an important moment in Kobe’s career, in his conquest to win his first title without O'Neal.
As CNN reporter LZ Granderson wrote, Kobe Bryant “wasn’t simply an NBA legend, he was a cultural icon.” During his 20 year career, Kobe Bryant saw a level of global superstardom that few athletes have encountered. Kobe’s reach transcended the sport of basketball, influencing everyone from NFL players like Kansas City Chiefs Running Back LeSean McCoy to Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout (who in 2016 upon Kobe’s retirement wore special cleats to honor him). When asked about the Kobe “8” jersey hanging in his locker, LeSean replied, “I just want to honor him. When I was a kid, he inspired me. In my neighborhood and in my city, he was a hero.”
It's rare that an athlete can move past the bounds of their sport to influence those across various arenas of athletic competition. Kobe’s competitive spirit was so powerful that even 8-time Super Bowl Champion and New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick sought Kobe’s voice in order to motivate his team, bringing him into his training facilities in 2018 to share inspiration.
The Philadelphia Eagles placed Kobe’s “10 Rules” in their practice facility to inspire their team, next to the rules is a large-scale image of Kobe wearing this jersey.
The Mamba Mentality
Perhaps more than anything else, Kobe Bryant is remembered as the perfect embodiment of the competitive spirit. Unrelenting, unforgiving, determined, and ultimately demanding the most from himself, Kobe pushed himself to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. At Kobe’s memorial service, Michael Jordan would say of Kobe, “This kid had passion like you would never know… Kobe left nothing in the tank.”
While Kobe was of course blessed with a natural gift for the game of basketball, what really set him apart from the competition was his unrelenting drive to make himself better, every day, no matter what. In that sense, he has become an inspiration, not just to a generation of athletes but also to a generation of business leaders who admire and try to emulate the Mamba Mentality.
In the foreword for Kobe’s book, “The Mamba Mentality, How I Play” teammate and 6-time NBA All-Star Pau Gasol writes, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen a player as dedicated to being the best. His determination is unparalleled. He unquestionably worked harder than anyone else I have ever played with. Kobe knew that to be the best you need a different approach from everyone else.”
Kobe lays out in ritualistic detail the lengths to which he perfected himself. If he spotted a weakness in his own game, he corrected it – no matter the cost. At one point, following a severe ankle injury in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals, Kobe realized he had to improve his ankle strength. Kobe writes in his book, “After researching the matter, it became apparent that tap dancing was going to be the best way to build up my ankle strength while simultaneously improving my foot speed and rhythm. So I hired an instructor and started going to the studio.” Kobe’s dedication knew no bounds.
He would say, “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it… A lot of people want to be great, but they are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.” The lessons Kobe was teaching did not just pertain to basketball, they pertained to life, and perhaps that’s why Kobe touched so many people.
The item is presented with a variety of materials that depict this jersey including artwork, magazines, newspapers, t-shirts, photographs, pins, books and more. A full inventory can be requested by contacting Sotheby’s. The image has taken on a life of its own, and the accompanying items reflect the jersey’s pervasiveness in pop-culture.
The jersey is additionally presented with multiple photomatching certificates from The MeiGray Group in regards to game use, and a letter from James Spence Authentication in regards to the signature.
Photographs offered with jersey by Greg Cohen of California streets feature artworks by Jonas Never, Samir Evol, Calvin Kosciuk, Alex Varasten, Julien Bleser, Ernest Doty, Juan Pablo Reyes, Gabriel Toscano, Rudy Mendez, Mike Trujilio, VELA, Kim Seung Hyuck, Nessie Blaze, Eat Fantastic, Unknown Artist (1125 W Olive St.), @labieizms_, @mr.cafecito555, Art K. (@wsup_art).