On January 26, Dan Medina, a Los Angeles sculptor, woke up at 1:30 a.m. to lug a 160-pound sculpture above the Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas for a one-day-only visit.
His sculpture had one purpose and one purpose only: to pay homage to the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, along with seven other teammates, parents and coaches, who were killed in a helicopter crash at the same location two years before.
When Medina placed the sculpture at the crash site, he hoped a few people in the area would see his work. Little did he know that it would garner national attention by the day’s end.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, had an immense impact on the Los Angeles community. He was an 18-time All Star and was voted MVP in the league in 2008. But aside from basketball, Bryant was also active in community service. In 2007, Bryant and his family founded The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation to engage and encourage youth to play sports. Even after his passing, that initiative continues with the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation – a nonprofit organization founded in honor of Bryant and his daughter that supports underserved athletes.
Medina’s passion, expressed through his art, is a microcosm of the larger positive influence Bryant has had on the city. Intersections South L.A. spoke with Medina about his artwork and how Bryant’s legacy continues to impact the Los Angeles community two years after his passing.
This Q&A is edited for clarity and length.
Annenberg Media: Do you remember where you were and how you felt when you learned of Kobe’s passing?
Dan Medina: My wife and I were just hanging out in the home on Sunday and there was a report of a helicopter crash, which kind of got our attention. And then we heard from thereafter the fact it was Kobe and his daughter. It was one of those things that you’ll never forget where you were at the time, no matter how old you are, where you are.
AM: What inspired you to create the sculpture of Bryant and his daughter?
DM: I would visit the crash site and the first two times I was there, there were a few flowers, and it just felt like there wasn’t an appropriate homage to those that were lost. I thought that maybe with time somebody would do something. The flowers dried out and all the color photos faded, and so I just felt like it was being lost. And as an artist, I just felt like, ‘well, what can I do?’ I played with a couple of compositions where it was Kobe and Gigi. They had to be together because that’s where the loss was, not just Kobe and Gigi, but the other families that were lost that day. Very few people know details about the other seven, but you know, it’s heartfelt.
AM: What was the process of making the sculpture like?
DM: I began to create a composition and then I detailed it and finished the 24-inch scale. I finished the scale and showed it to a few neighbors and friends and they were like ‘wow, you’re going to make a lot of money.’ I didn’t do it for money. I did it because I was compelled to. And I have no intention of making money [on the statue].
AM: How did you get the idea to temporarily place the sculpture at the location where the crash occurred?
DM: I had an idea that if I wait for the anniversary, I would maybe do a kind of a Banksy style installation where I hike up some concrete, make it permanent, and get in trouble later, if you know what I mean. And I decided that that would be the worst thing I could do because then I would take something that’s so pure and positive and add a negative twist to it. And I just thought that wouldn’t be a good idea.
AM: Describe the experience of the full day the sculpture was displayed in Calabasas.
DM: A few weeks before the installation, I decided I’m going to hike it up just before sunrise, have it in place, and wait there the whole day. Obviously, I don’t want anyone to take it. Then, I’ll break it down as the sun sets just to give people a chance to come and see it because I realize those who really care about Kobe will make it a point to be there. I didn’t sleep that night. I woke up at 1:30 a.m., packed up, and arrived at the site at 4:30 a.m., and I started to hike the 160-pound bronze and steel design up the hill. Halfway up, the wagon broke. At that point, I wanted to quit. And this might sound cliche, but you know, the Mamba Mentality is, no, you don’t quit, you find a way to get it done.
AM: How does it feel to have your work featured on such a wide scale?
DM: All of a sudden the media started to show up. The L.A. Times was there, ABC, and tweets started going off. And here we are. It’s been from all over the globe. I’ve been contacted by people from Canada, Hong Kong, Europe, Mexico. It’s insane. It’s just insane.
AM: What was the sculpture’s impact on the L.A. community?
DM: There was a weird energy the whole day. There were times when it was lighthearted and there were times when it was just heavy and deep. This one man just came up and hugged me. He said, ‘I have a daughter, and what you’ve done today — the moment I heard about it, I left my office. I left everything. I just wanted to come see it and meet you.’ This guy is hugging me and tearing up and his lower lip is quivering. And he’s like, ‘I don’t know how to thank you.’ It wasn’t about me, but I definitely was impacted by it. And like I said to them at the end of the day, I committed to keeping it there until the last person hiking the trail.
AM: What is one memorable experience you had with a Kobe fan when you were with the sculpture?
DM: On the way down, as I was getting to my Jeep, one guy runs in frantically, a young guy in a Lakers jersey. And then he said, ‘I just drove three hours.’ Then he touched Kobe’s head. I think he was happy with that.
AM: If you could say one thing to Kobe right now, what would it be?
DM: The first thing that came to mind was don’t go. He was on his way to something bigger and greater. He definitely went too soon… he had so much to give. I would strongly say ‘thank you.’