The short, semi-secret passageway in Central Square known as “Graffiti Alley” has always been a place where local artists can reflect on what’s happening in the world.
So on Monday, one day after news broke that Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were among those killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles, a mural appeared: Bryant, smiling in profile as his daughter leans on his shoulders.
Stung by the death of the Los Angeles Lakers star, his daughter, and seven others, officials from the Central Square Business Improvement District enlisted the help of a local graffiti artist to create the touching mural of the father-daughter duo along Richard B. Modica Way.
“We know ‘Graffiti Alley’ is an asset, so when things like this happen in the world it quickly becomes a place where we can memorialize or honor someone or something,” said Michael Monestime, executive director of the business improvement association, and the person who commissioned the artist to put up the piece.
“We saw a lot of chatter online about his passing, and a lot of people in their feelings about it, and we wanted to celebrate the life of him and his daughter," he said. "And here we are.”
The work was done Monday by street artist Brandalizm, Monestime said. The two met in the alley — an 80-foot stretch of walkway that has long been a rotating gallery of street art and graffiti — around 7:30 a.m. By 3 p.m., the mural was complete.
“Brandalizm was able to do this piece quick and in response to the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Monestime said. “And since then we have seen many people sharing pictures and stopping into the alley.”
Monestime said Brandalizm was chosen because he’s “one of the artists who holds the crown in ‘Graffiti Alley" and is a “skilled artisan” who constantly rises to the occasion.
The mural shows the side profile of Bryant, 41, with a slight smile on his face. Above him is an image of his daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, who is sitting on her father’s shoulders. Angel wings are seen coming out of her back, and a halo floats above her curly dark hair. To the right of the painting are Bryant’s numbers — 8 and 24 — from his time in the NBA. Beneath those is a "2″ — the number Gianna wore on her own jersey when playing basketball. The words “Rest in Peace” and the date of their death, Sunday, January 26, 2020, are scrawled at the bottom of the piece.
“Graffiti Alley” has long been a place where those lost too early are remembered. It’s where a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared around the civil rights leader’s birthday earlier this month. When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, his face rose from the brick sidewalk in black-and-white spray paint. Rapper Phife Dawg, in his passing, also got his due.
The Bryant tribute came together fast, said Monestime, appearing in the alley 24 hours after Bryant and his daughter were killed. Seven others — including former Cape Cod League coach John Altobelli — also died in Sunday’s crash.
The Central Square Business Improvement District shared an image of the completed memorial to social media Monday evening, writing “'Heroes come and go, but legends are forever,'” and “#CentralSq pays tribute. ...”
The powerful picture has elicited a strong response — both in real-life and online, with many thanking the business association and artist for the tribute to Bryant’s life and career, as well as the bond he shared with his daughter.
Monestime said art often plays a strong role in response to tragedy, borne from the way people try to process a particularly difficult moment that’s felt collectively.
“Graffiti being a tool that’s used often there," he said, "this felt like the right thing to do.”
Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.