April 18, 2024

What on earth would prompt Joe “Jellybean” Bryant to auction the 2000 NBA championship ring his son Kobe gifted him?

Is the father of the Lakers legend signaling that he and Kobe’s mom, Pamela, are in financial straits and need the estimated $200,000 the ring could fetch to make ends meet?

Is it an attempt to embarrass Kobe’s widow, Vanessa, into gifting them a slice of the estimated $600-million estate Kobe left her when he died in a helicopter crash four years ago?

Without question it’s just the latest chapter in the choppy relationship Kobe’s parents had with their son during his 20-year Lakers career and marriage to Vanessa, whom he met in 1999 and married in 2001. His parents were famously absent from the wedding ceremony in Dana Point.

The same auction firm Joe and Pamela Bryant used 11 years ago in an aborted attempt to sell the same ring and dozens of other items related to Kobe put the 2000 championship ring up for sale March 9. The initial bid was for $33,000, and 12 bids later it is up to $94,000. Bidding ends March 30.

The 14-karat gold ring features 40 diamonds and includes the inscriptions “Lakers,” “Bryant,” “World Champions” and “Bling Bling.” What’s it worth? In 2019, Pamela Bryant auctioned a replica 2000 championship ring gifted by her son that sold for $206,000.

Neither of Kobe’s parents nor Vanessa have commented publicly about the current auction.

Social media reaction is mixed, albeit with a decided tilt toward outrage. But none of it has come close to the impact of a tweet dispatched from Kobe the morning of May 4, 2013, after he learned his parents were attempting to sell his treasured mementos, including the two 2000 championship rings, a signed basketball from that Lakers team, his 1996 Pennsylvania high school championship ring, sweat suits he wore at Lower Merion (Pa.) High and a surfboard he used as a child.

“When u give Give GIVE and they take Take TAKE at wat point do u draw a line in the sand?” Kobe tweeted, adding the hashtags “hurt beyond measure,” “gave me no warning,” and finally, “love?”

Kobe took his parents to court, saying he never granted them permission to sell the items. Pamela Bryant said in a court filing that she planned to purchase a Nevada home with the $450,000 advance she received. Lawyers worked out a settlement allowing Kobe’s parents to auction six items of memorabilia totaling $500,000, and they issued a public apology.

“We regret our actions and statements related to the Kobe Bryant auction memorabilia,” the statement read. “We apologize for any misunderstanding and unintended pain we may have caused our son and appreciate the financial support that he has provided to us over the years.”

It wasn’t the first or last skirmish between parents and son. As The Times’ Mike Bresnahan so succinctly wrote during the 2013 auction kerfuffle: “Bryant’s career with the Lakers has often been pushed aside by internal family matters, the recent court battle over his memorabilia the latest in a string of cheerless events.”

Kobe enjoyed a close relationship with his parents and two older sisters growing up in Italy — where his father played professionally for eight seasons after his eight-year NBA career — and in Philadelphia, where he attended high school.

When he arrived in Los Angeles at age 17 in 1996, he appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” his parents in the audience beaming with pride, and the precocious Kobe answering Leno’s playful question, “You don’t have to cut the lawn ever again?” by laughing and saying, “The good thing now is I get to give my parents an allowance.”

The estrangement began when Kobe and the former Vanessa Laine — who was a 17-year-old student at Marina High School in Huntington Beach — began dating. His parents were uneasy with their son’s devotion to Vanessa and also uncomfortable that she was not Black, Kobe told The Times.

Kobe and Vanessa moved from Pacific Palisades to Newport Coast, closer to where Vanessa’s family was rooted in Orange County. Two months after the wedding, he won his second championship with the Lakers and cried as he clutched the trophy in the shower, later saying, “That was about my dad.”

When Lower Merion High retired Kobe’s number in 2002, his parents sat in one section of the bleachers, while Vanessa sat in another section. For Kobe’s part, he acknowledged that his priorities had changed even though he wished his parents were part of his life.

“I think a lot of it is just natural,” Kobe said. “I’m sure it’s tough on any parent when their child grows up and starts stepping into their own.”

Later in the same April 2003 interview with The Times’ Bill Plaschke, he said he missed his father: “It’s not about basketball. It’s about having somebody to go to a ballgame with. It’s about having somebody to hang out with. That’s what I miss.”

At times it appeared Kobe and his parents made attempts at reconciliation, although the 2013 auction episode marked another low point. So was the fact that his parents did not attend his final NBA game in April 2016.

“Our relationship is s—,” he explained to ESPN. “I say, ‘I’m going to buy you a very nice home,’ and the response is, ‘That’s not good enough?’ Then you’re selling my s—?”

Four years after the helicopter that Kobe, his daughter Gianna and seven others were taking from Orange County to his Thousand Oaks Mamba Academy crashed in the Santa Monica Mountains, killing everyone aboard, Joe Bryant has circled back to auction a championship ring his son had made specially for him, an exact replica of Kobe’s own ring, which presumably remains safely in Vanessa’s possession.

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