The National Basketball Association has redesigned its All-Star most valuable player trophy to honor the legendary Kobe Bryant, two years after his death.
The NBA previously named the award after the 18-time All-Star, who won a record-tying four MVPs in the annual exhibition game. Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, died in January 2020 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Top NBA players will meet in Cleveland on Feb. 20 for the 2022 All-Star Game. The starters have already been declared, and the reserves will be announced Thursday night.
While the new MVP trophy was revealed for the first time on Thursday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said shortly after Bryant’s death, in February 2020, that the award would be renamed in his honor.
“Kobe Bryant is synonymous with NBA All-Star and embodies the spirit of this global celebration of our game,” Silver said in a statement at the time. Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers won the inaugural Kobe Bryant MVP award that year.
In addition to the new MVP prize, the NBA also just unveiled redesigned trophies for the Slam Dunk Contest, Skills Challenge, Rising Stars competition and celebrity game.
The league teamed up with artist Victor Solomon, known for his $30,000 hand-crafted basketball hoops. Solomon told CNBC the new trophy designs were an opportunity to “push myself creatively, and push the envelope of what the team and I could create.”
A trophy that honors Kobe
Solomon was approached by the NBA in March 2020 about a redesign.
The Kobe Bryant trophy he created has an eight-sided base that serves as a tribute to Bryant’s All-Star appearances and honors his original No. 8 jersey that he started wearing in high school.
It also honors Bryant’s All-Star Game MVP performances, most notably his first in 2002. That year, Bryant scored a game-high 31 points in front of a raucous crowd in Philadelphia, near where Bryant grew up.
The trophy weighs 15 pounds and has four levels for accolades. They pay tribute to his No. 24 Los Angeles Lakers jersey and the No. 10 he wore for Team USA. The trophy also highlights Bryant’s five NBA championships and two NBA MVP awards.
“His presence, innovation and his boldness needed to be represented in the trophy,” Solomon said. “It was very serendipitous that once we started moving down the road in this creative direction for it, there were some really poignant story moments that organically came out of it.”
Solomon’s work was relatively unknown in basketball circles until 2016. That’s when Nike called.
According to a 2018 article in Sports Illustrated, Solomon said Nike requested one of his 24-karat gold, stained-glass basketball hoops to celebrate Kevin Durant’s arrival in California and his joining the Golden State Warriors. Solomon customized a $30,000 hoop for Durant that included a crystal net.
Celebrities in basketball and music industry took note. Solomon created pieces for hip-hop star Rick Ross and former NBA player Paul Pierce.
“My real dream is that I want to redesign the trophies for the NBA,” Solomon told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve got to get new trophies.”
Solomon remembers the quote and said the experience since then has been “crazy.” He said his partnership with the NBA started “organically” in 2019, when the NBA requested his eye for a new trophy design for its G League operation.
“It was not lost on me that that was my opportunity to make an impression, to set the stage for a bigger vision that I’ve had,” Solomon said.
Since 1986, the NBA’s All-Star trophy has mostly looked the same — a plaque of a basketball with the NBA logo in the middle. But the trophy has been redesigned more than 10 times.
The NBA isn’t saying how much it spent on the new Kobe Bryant trophy. The Larry O’Brien trophy, awarded annually to the winner of the NBA finals, is made by Tiffany & Co and has reportedly been valued at $13,000. Industry sources say that figure is closer to $60,000.
Asked if the Kobe Bryant trophy costs as much as one of his $30,000 hoops, Solomon said, “There’s no stained glass in this one, but definitely some luxurious materials that are appropriate for the honor that we’re celebrating.”
The Kobe Bryant trophy and other new awards coincide with the NBA’s 75th anniversary season.
“We agreed that All-Star was the first place to start to really attack this and reimagine these [trophies],” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s head of on-court and brand partnerships. “We knew we could do better. We could respect the past but innovate.”
Outside of the Kobe Bryant trophy, the most noticeable redesigns are for the AT&T-sponsored Slam Dunk trophy and the Mountain Dew-sponsored three-point contest crown. Each trophy features a 14-inch crystal star-shaped column and has a 24-karat gold basketball embedded inside.
Solomon said the creative process involved taking “that classic gold ball on the wooden base and using that imagery to spin forward what the new version of it is.”
“It was not lost on us how high the stakes were,” Solomon said.
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