Forbes | Last Piece Of Famous Kobe Bryant Mural Appraised At 200,000 Dollars | August 16th 2023

Full article can be found here.

When Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a tragic helicopter crash in late January 2020, the entire world took time to mourn the loss of one of basketball’s greatest stars. In fact, there was so much commemoration taking place that the streets of Los Angeles became filled with murals of the fallen icon (enough murals for someone to create a top-57 list).

One of the most famous murals crafted at that time was the mammoth piece of art located on La Brea in Los Angeles and penned by Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) – a famous French-born street artist based in the Los Angeles area.

(Sidebar: To learn more about Mr. Brainwash and how he was both hilariously and unintentionally inspired/created by the renowned street artist known as ‘Banksy,’ be sure to check out the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”)

Unfortunately, after record amounts of rainfall in California in mid-March of 2020, the entire mural was destroyed. Well, we should say almost the entire mural was destroyed. As far as we know, there is still one piece of that historic creation that remains intact. And by some strange confluence of events, that piece is currently housed at the Le Shoppe Auction House in Keego Harbor, Michigan – where it is waiting to be auctioned off in September with an insurance appraisal value of 200,000 dollars.

But what is such a valuable piece of art doing in a locally-owned Michigan auction house?

That’s simple, because it is close to Detroit, Michigan, the primary domicile of the artifact’s current owner. The soon-to-be auctioneer is choosing to remain anonymous, preferring to instead be referred to under the alias of ‘Blue Ryder.’

That begs the next question: how did this so-called Blue Ryder obtain such a rare piece of art?

Blue Ryder respectfully declined to comment on how he acquired the piece of the Bryant mural. However, he and the auction house have assured us that it was obtained by legal means. With that said, it isn’t about how he came into possession of the Bryant piece that makes it so fascinating, but rather the story of how he realized its value.

“I got this pretty shortly after Bryant’s death. I know the mural was up in January 2020, and I think it got damaged by rain a couple of months later. I was still in Detroit when I got it. It was a cool piece of art. I really liked it. I loved Bryant for a long time,” Blue Ryder explained during an interview with Forbes. “But I had plans to move to Los Angeles, and I didn’t think that bringing this pretty fragile Bryant piece with me was the right idea. So, it sat in my closet.”

“I lived in Los Angeles for two years. After that, I moved back home to Michigan and got a teaching job in Detroit. My first lesson was on the Roman Empire, and since I got hired in March, I wasn’t really sure what the kids had learned. So we were kind of starting from the beginning. And one of the first lessons was about iconography and battles from within the Roman Empire about icons. I was trying to explain icons to 7th graders who, because of COVID-19 and virtual schooling, hadn’t truly learned history in a really long time. So, I told them who some of my personal icons were, and one of the people I named was Bryant.”

“I wasn’t trying to equate those icons with religious icons. I was just trying to get them to understand what it all means. And it was because of that conversation that I remembered the Bryant art piece I had sitting in my closet. I had completely forgotten about it this whole time I was back in Detroit.”

Akin to how one re-discovers a stylish article of clothing in the back of their closet, Blue Ryder was reminded of the last piece of the Bryant mural he owned from his conversation in the classroom. This recollection reinvigorated his interest in the art piece, and thus he began looking deeper into its origins.

“I actually didn’t know who the artist was until then,” Blue Ryder told “I had no idea it was Mr. Brainwash. I had no idea he was this huge pop artist. I had no idea about the inspiration he derived from Banksy.”

Eventually, through his research, Blue Ryder was able to match the piece to Mr. Brainwash’s mural of Bryant and his daughter. But even then, he still had no idea just how valuable the relic that spent years collecting dust in his closet truly was.

“A few months later, I was sitting with some buddies, and I told them about this art piece that I had because I was trying to get out of teaching and explore new avenues,” Blue Ryder recalled. “And one of my friends was like, ‘You should try to put that up for auction. That piece is a really big deal.’”

“So, I did. I reached out to some auction houses, and I ended up getting an appraisal from Terri Stearn. An appraisal that turned out to be a little bit better than I expected,” Blue Ryder laughed.

“As an art appraiser, I get calls all the time from people claiming the most outrageous things,” Stearn explained during her phone interview with Forbes. “I’ve gotten a phone call like ‘Oh, I have a Van Gogh.’ And I try to be really nice, but after a while, I tend to be a little jaded about these things.”

“So, when [Blue Ryder] did call, in my head, I’m kind of like, ‘You’ve got a Mr. Brainwash piece of Kobe Bryant. Yeah, okay, whatever, buddy.’ I tell all of my co-workers, ‘Oh, this guy is coming in with a Mr. Brainwash piece,’ and it’s kind of like a joke. Everyone was really skeptical, but then he comes in, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, you guys, you guys, you guys have to see this! It’s a Mr. Brainwash piece. This is like the real deal. We’re standing in the presence of coolness.’”

Stearn continued to explain: “At first, I wasn’t even sure he could have the piece. I didn’t really know how graffiti works. It’s technically not really anybody’s possession. I did end up finding a piece online and found the area of the piece [Blue Ryder] said he had, and then I realized, ‘Oh, this is something special.’”

“It was a really hard piece to appraise because Mr. Brainwash has some really interesting auction results. He’s got six million dollar auction results, he’s got million dollar auction results, and he’s got thousand dollar auction results.”

After some thorough examination, Stearn eventually appraised the Bryant piece at 200,000 dollars for insurance (which is a little different than its fair market value). Also, for those at home wondering, the fact that Blue Ryder just owns a piece of the mural rather than the entire canvas makes it that much more valuable.

“I definitely think the individual piece itself is more valuable than the mural as a whole,” Stearn explained to Forbes. “In the art world, bigger is not always better. It’s really hard to sell big pieces. I think you would get more money for a smaller piece of the mural than the entire thing because who can really fit an entire mural in their home or office building.”

But if you ask Blue Ryder, it isn’t the piece’s practicability, or even its scarceness, that makes it so valuable. The piece’s very existence is a symbol of Bryant’s legacy. The piece survived a storm. It traveled across the country, only to sit in a closet for years before re-emerging in all its glory. That’s the epitome of perseverance. And perseverance is one of the core tenets of Bryant’s famous Mamba Mentality. Never give up, no matter what.

“Not everyone thinks Bryant is the best basketball player,” Blue Ryder said. “But few will argue that he’s not the toughest. And the fact that this piece of the mural remained intact all this time is a testament to his unwavering determination.”

Even Stearn – an individual who has been around rare artwork for years – says that this piece (and the story behind it) is unlike any her or her gallery has seen before.

“We do have some really fun stories about some of the pieces that come into our auction house,” Stearn said. “However, usually, it is just regular artwork that we are selling, and there’s not anything overly exciting about them outside of the pieces themselves. But this Bryant piece is really special because it has such a good story behind it. You don’t see that every day.”

“Sometimes, there’s a piece of art that was previously owned by a celebrity. So, that makes it more special and valuable. But this is definitely the most far-out and interesting story we’ve ever encountered here at our auction house. I don’t think we will ever see something like it again. This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. So, I’m really excited to see what happens with it.”

Chance can be an indiscriminate, cruel part of our existence. But it can also be something beautiful. After all, it was mere chance that a boy who spent his childhood looking to Bryant for strength would obtain a rare piece of artwork that was intended to memorialize his life. A piece of artwork that ultimately could change his life.

“I’m not someone that studied art,” Blue Ryder told Forbes in an exclusive interview. “I didn’t like taking art classes in school. I’m not a good painter. I like looking at art. I’ve been to art museums across the world. But for this piece of art to end up in Detroit, Michigan, with a kid who grew up loving Kobe Bryant. That’s a miracle to me. I don’t know, even when I got the appraisal price. I hesitated to sell it because it’s a piece of history. I’m a history teacher, so I can recognize what is and isn’t history, and this is a piece of history.”

“I really wasn’t sure if I was going to sell it. Once I realized what it was, I framed it and put it up in my room. And no matter what kind of day I was having, I knew I could lay down in my room and look to that image of Bryant raising his fist in the air for strength.”

“That’s a piece of history, and for it to end up in my hands, of all people, there’s no words for that, really.”

For those interested, the piece of Mr. Brainwash’s Kobe Bryant mural will be available for bidding (both online and in-person) at Le Shoppe Auction House on September 23. The auction starts at noon (EST).

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