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Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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LEGEND: Kobe tribute billboard sprinkled throughout town

In large, purple-and-yellow letters reminiscent of the Lakers’ aesthetic, the billboards read “LEGEND,” with small white lettering beneath: “1978-2020.” To the right of the letters is the smiling face of Kobe Bryant with a purple filter superimposed.

“The first thing that popped in my mind, it was kind of the obvious solution to do something with that kind of Lakers lettering in that same font, same type treatment,” Randy Fung, Seattle-based Lamar art director, said. “Kobe was such a charismatic player and person. I wanted to find a good image of him with his smile.”

At 10-feet high by 30-feet long, Bryant is larger than life on the billboard at 29th and Regal on the South Hill. The same design can be seen at Appleway and Dishman Mica; Sprague and Evergreen; Sprague and Sullivan; and Sullivan and Mission, as well as in Coeur d’Alene, Clarkston, Wenatchee and Yakima, where there are three. Not to mention more than 1,000 across North America.

The digital billboards appeared the morning after Bryant and eight others – including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna – died in a helicopter crash in California.

Fung was saddened by these deaths, and he strived to honor the player through the billboard. Though his team will always be the Seattle Supersonics, he long admired the Lakers’ tradition of legendary players: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal. It only seemed natural he recognize Bryant as belonging to that legacy.

“The fact that the word legend started with ‘L,’ that worked out well,” Fung said. “Using that ‘L’ from the Lakers font, I think a lot of people would kind of recognize that and be able to make that association.”

Though he had never met Bryant, Fung used to work for a company that designed the type of sports posters kids might hang on their bedroom walls, and he had designed a Bryant poster for the player’s rookie NBA season.

“I feel blessed to have been able to have that opportunity when I was younger,” Fung said. “In being able to do something now, under such tragic circumstances, it’s more sad for me.”

Lamar is a company based in Baton Rouge with 360,000 displays throughout the United States and Canada, but there is a regional office in Spokane that commands over 1,000 billboards in the region. Lisa DeLatte, office manager, said she hasn’t received any direct feedback about the Bryant billboard, but she did hear it was receiving mixed reviews on social media.

When KREM posted news of the billboards on its Facebook page, Carla Scott commented, “There was 9 people on that helicopter 3 were teen girls i hate that only Kobe Bryant is being mentioned.”

When Lamar considers someone an icon, designing a billboard is a common practice, and Bryant was an easy decision, DeLatte said. A good example of another well-known celebrity was the case of Robin Williams, and a recent commemoration was Frank Robinson, a baseball star who died last February. In some situations, determining whether the person rises to that status is less cut and dry.

With Bryant, the company acted quickly. The design was set in stone by 8 p.m. the day of Bryant’s death, and the billboards were up the next morning. The company is able to react this quickly due to digital billboards. Mendi Robinson, a Lamar creative director, said if need be, they could get a design to every office within 10 minutes.

“On Monday morning everybody’s kind of somber and they’re driving to work and, just for them to see that, I just think that something like that is special,” Robinson said.

Lamar distributed the art to all of its markets and provided the option for the offices to display it on any vacant digital billboard.

These billboards are not the only type the company designs and displays gratis. National holidays such as Veterans Day receive billboards, as does the Red Cross in the case of natural disasters.

Lamar also has a relationship with law enforcement and places billboards in cases of dangerous wanted criminals. Though some have been used in Spokane, DeLatte said these billboards more commonly go up in Yakima.

“I do Crimestoppers and Yakima,” DeLatte said. “I put those up on space avail, so I’m trying to catch bad guys, too.”

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