Santa Ana artists’ mural of Kobe and Mookie is Mecca for followers of Los Angeles sports activities – Orange County Register
Two giants of the Los Angeles sports scene just got even bigger in the eyes of their fans — and anyone else with a view of the parking lot across the street from the historic Philippe the Original sandwich shop near Union Station.
Try 40 feet tall.
Not big enough for you?
Try exposure to the 14 million eyeballs that follow the Instagram account of Major League Baseball, and the 1.4 million followers of Sports Illustrated. Not to mention all the Lakers and Dodgers devotees sharing selfies on social media and the lovers of Philippe’s French-dipped sandwiches and customers of the newly opened MGD Korean BBQ — they’ve all helped make the wall part of the vibrant Los Angeles mural landscape.
And that doesn’t even count the coverage by local TV news, including a crew from KTLA 5 that paid a visit Wednesday, Feb. 17, to gawk at the larger-than-life images.
What’s all the excitement about?
For one thing, it’s about a mural celebrating two beloved sports figures. But it’s also more than that. In the minds of the artists who created it and the building owner who commissioned it, the mural celebrates the resilience of people living nearby who have demonstrated remarkable power in meeting last year’s twin scourges, COVID-19 and social unrest.
The image certainly conveys power. One helped features the late Kobe Bryant; the young Kobe, in his original no. 8 jersey and his original short Afro; knees bent in mid-flight and both hands on a basketball that clearly is about to be thrown down in a mind-bending dunk.
Next to the Lakers legend is the LA newcomer, Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. The all-star has already carved a place into the hearts of Dodgers fans with a stellar season and an unworldly 2020 World Series. The mural shows Betts much like Kobe, no. 50 rising in the air against the outfield wall to snatch away an extra base hit, one of several jaw-dropping catches he made to help end the team’s 32-year championship drought.
And, between Kobe and Mookie, there’s a message: “We Will Rise Above … #LAtogether.”
There’s also a reference to a Bible verse, just below Mookie’s right foot — Psalm 18:29 — that fits the mural’s deeper theme:
“For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.”
Crystal Aragon of Los Angeles, who loves both the Lakers and the Dodgers, recognized what it meant when she and boyfriend Jeremy Gallegos stopped by to check out the mural on Wednesday morning. To her, the verse fits this particular point in time, as does the message of people using strength to overcome obstacles — something sports can sometimes portray.
“Los Angeles is a very conflicted city. But when it comes to any kind of LA teams that unites us,” Aragon, 26, said.
“You see that… maybe not in politics, but in other things we can all agree on.”
There is a bit of conflict for the couple, though. While Gallegos, 24, came dressed in a Dodgers World Series 2020 cap and sweatshirt he confessed that he is a fan of the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers.
“I do this for her,” said a smiling Gallegos, who surprised Aragon with the trip to the mural, telling her they were only out to get pastrami sandwiches. Like a stream of other visitors, they snapped photos of the mural and selfies to post on social media.
The mural — a three-day project completed Sunday by Santa Ana artist Brian Peterson and painting partner Damin Lujan — is intended not just to be admired, but to inspire. The artists were commissioned by building owner David Ahn, who came to Southern California from Korea at the age of 4 and grew up rooting for the Lakers and Dodgers while living in Buena Park.
Ahn’s company, DMI Real Estate Group, recently renovated the old building near Ord and Alameda streets in Chinatown. The location once housed a Burger King but is now home to MGD Korean BBQ, whose signage is posted above and to the side of the mural.
Given the many Dodger fans who flock to Philippe, the mural was fine with the owners of that restaurant.
“I’m just a huge sports fan,” said Ahn, 43, who played travel hockey as a youth and is now a girl dad, like Bryant was, encouraging his two young daughters to play sports.
“I would say my entire life is sports and food… and buildings.”
Going into the mural project, he only knew two things: “We needed the Dodgers on there and I wanted Kobe on it.”
A friend of a friend of a friend
In true Hollywood style Ahn met the mural artists through a mutual acquaintance.
That friend was helping Ahn with his real estate business and knew Lujan from the church they had attended together, Newsong in Santa Ana. Lujan soon contacted fellow mural artist, Peterson, who is well known in Orange County for his Faces of Santa Ana nonprofit that raises money for homeless individuals through the portraits he paints of them.
Peterson and Lujan, who both live in Santa Ana, have created about 15 murals in Orange County, but this was their first foray into Los Angeles. Even though he grew up in Miami, an adolescent Peterson collected at least 30 Bryant rookie cards and assorted posters. Hey still has them. When Bryant died in a helicopter crash Jan 26, 2020, Peterson sat up all night crying.
“He is my hero,” Peterson said.
Both Peterson and Ahn said they admired how Bryant persevered and grew into a man who loved his daughters, perfected his skills and, once retired, broadened his horizons. Peterson wanted to depict Bryant in the No. 8 jersey — instead of the 24 Bryant started wearing after a 2003 rape accusation was dropped and he settled with the alleged victim — because of what the younger Bryant symbolized to him.
“The No. 8 Kobe taught me to work hard. The No. 8 Kobe taught me to be ambitious and believe in yourself.”
But when it comes to baseball, Peterson isn’t a particularly avid fan and he had no clue which Dodger to depict.
Ahn, who lives in Porter Ranch, told them he wanted Betts. The reasoning ran deeper than the stellar play Ahn witnessed during Game 6 of the World Series, when Betts went 2-for-4 with a solo homer, a double and two runs. He also wanted Betts on the mural because of something that happened off the field in Boston, when Betts played for the Boston Red Sox. After Game 2 of the 2018 Series, Betts took trays of leftover post-game food to feed homeless people.
The message of the mural has been spreading quickly, particularly since MLB’s nod on Instagram earlier this week.
“It’s been crazy,” Lujan said. “People reaching out and people re-posting it and saying ‘Congratulations!’
“I still can’t believe we got to paint that mural and how amazing it came out.”