African American history museum displays Kobe Bryant’s jersey

Julia Jacobs, The New York Times

Posted at Oct 20 2020 06:15 PM

In a photo provided by National Museum of African American History and Culture, a jersey that Kobe Bryant wore during the 2008 N.B.A. finals is prepared to go on display at the National Museum of African American History. The National Museum of African American History and Culture/The New York Times

Shortly before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to the public in 2016, Kobe Bryant took a walk through its sports gallery, which chronicles Black athletes’ fight for equality and their cultural contributions.

Bryant, whose $1-million donation to the museum gave him the sneak peek, later decided to donate some of his own memorabilia to the collection, including a Los Angeles Lakers uniform and a pair of shoes that he wore during the 2008 NBA Finals.

Those items had not yet made it into the museum’s gallery, but after Bryant’s sudden death in a helicopter crash in January, which also killed his daughter Gianna Bryant, the museum has decided to put his jersey on display, it said Monday.

Damion L. Thomas, the museum’s sports curator, who walked with Bryant through the gallery in 2016, said that part of the reasoning for displaying Bryant’s jersey was that after Bryant’s death, he had been seeing visitors congregate by a photo of him that was up in the gallery.

“People were coming and taking pictures there and sharing stories about Kobe,” Thomas said. “It became a place for people to grieve and commune.”

The jersey, which Bryant wore during Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Finals, will be on display starting Wednesday on the third floor of the museum in a gallery called “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field.” 

The museum’s collection includes clothing worn by other Black athletes of note, including Colin Kaepernick’s jersey, Derrick Rose’s shirt reading “I can’t breathe,” and Muhammad Ali’s robe.

Bryant is considered one of the museum’s founding donors because his foundation helped fund the construction of the museum. Congress had pledged to foot half of the bill, but the museum had to find the rest of the financing — $270 million — in private donations.

The museum had been prepared to put the jersey on display in March, but the pandemic delayed its plans until now. It reopened to the public in September.

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