California artist Dan Medina rose before the sun on Wednesday morning and carefully lugged his 160-pound sculpture up the hills above Calabasas. There, at the site where NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others lost their lives in a helicopter crash exactly two years ago, Medina placed his work of art.
The sculpture depicts Bryant with his arm around Gianna, who is holding a basketball. It captures a thoughtful moment between father and daughter.
Since the fatal crash on Jan. 26, 2020, fans all over the world have dedicated countless memorials to the sports superstar and his impact — including Medina.
“I’m not the biggest sports fan you’ll ever meet, but Kobe, for me, was bigger than basketball,” Medina told TODAY. “He was an (intellectual), he spoke multiple languages, he was an avid reader. I met people who said that he was maybe the surrogate father or surrogate guardian to their children because of the way he spoke.”
Medina said he hiked back up to the site on Wednesday night and took the sculpture down. He explained that he didn’t want to break any city laws, which is why he took it down after one day.
Several fans came to celebrate the sculpture throughout the day, Medina said.
“I’ve had so many parents cry in my arms today," he added.
On the base of the statue, Medina inscribed the names of all nine victims of the crash: Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, John Altobelli, wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.
Medina’s intent was always to find a way to legally have this sculpture installed permanently in honor of the losses of all nine people on board the helicopter, he said. He added that he hopes that placing it at the crash site on Wednesday has created momentum and spurred dialogue about that possibility.
The artist has also sculpted a larger, what he calls “lifesize,” version of Bryant, which will be 16-18 feet tall with the pedestal included, he said. He would like to install that work in downtown Los Angeles.
Medina described nearly giving up on his trek up the hills to the crash site when the carpet he was using to haul up his sculpture ripped. But, at that moment, Medina said he heard Bryant in his head:
"I remembered exactly what he’d say: ‘push, finish…’ That’s why I chose him, and it’s something that I think needed to be done."