Lower Merion police believe the thieves who stole Kobe Bryant Memorabilia were able to enter the school by breaking into the locker room, according to a Lower Merion School District official. While there were multiple security cameras that recorded the theft, the thieves covered their faces. The mask could hinder efforts in determining who stole the ‘priceless’ memorabilia. Police attempted to get fingerprints off the display case; it is unclear if they were successful.
Doug Young, Director of School and Community Relations for Lower Merion School District, said that the incident occurred Sunday evening between 6:30 and 7:30 pm. “There were custodians in the building, so it was actually a custodian who noticed someone had broken into the case and removed the items from it.”
It was earlier reported that thieves broke locks on the glass display case in order to get in. Items stolen from the “Kobe Shrine” include a framed replica of Kobe’s high school jersey, the 1996 PIAA Boys Basketball State Championship trophy and net, programs from the state and district title games, a proclamation from the Pennsylvania State House honoring the 1996 team as well as several pairs of signed Nike sneakers.
The theft occurred as other events were going on inside of the high school. At the time of the theft, the school’s theater company was holding a rehearsal. Earlier in the day a large rowing competition was held inside the school’s gymnasium. A district employee told us that everything looked normal as those events were going on. They said that they even saw people take pictures in front of the “Kobe Shrine.”
Despite the fact that doors were open, thieves still opted to force their way into the school. “They forced entry through a side door…. there actually were some doors open at that time,” said Doug Young.
Doug Young played with Bryant on the 1996 Lower Merion State Championship team. He said that Coach Downer, who still coaches the LM team, spoke Monday with Kobe to discuss what happened, “I think we’re all, Kobe included, pissed, you know, that someone would come in and do this.”
Doug told us that they could possibly replace the stolen trophy but that it would be “not quite be the same as having the original.” Alumni have already offered to donate things like programs from the 1996 championship game. “It’s more of a punch in the gut that someone would come into your school, vandalize school property, take things from a place that, as a community, is a pretty sacred spot… It’s frustrating. It’s sad,” he said.
We asked Doug if the display case was locked at the time of the theft. He told us “anybody who wanted to get in there could probably get in there. I think any thief who is determined to get something will have a plan for it. It was not Fort Knox, there was not a great deal of security, but there were a lot of cameras around that did catch video of whoever was who was doing it… Hopefully the police will have enough to go on to try to find someone.”
An earlier statement from Lower Merion High School said that police are currently reviewing the security footage “in an aggressive effort to identify those responsible for this crime.” The Main Line Times reports that both school and township officials say they hope to have surveillance images available.
At 8pm Monday night, a Lower Merion custodian cleaned the display case for the first time since the theft, removing the caution tape, and wiping down the inside and outside of the case.
On Monday evening, the main doors to the gymnasium were locked around 8 but the doors to the pool were left open. The door that opens to the boys’ locker room was locked, but appeared to open farther than usual while still locked. It is unclear if the door was broken and is also unclear which locker room the thieves were believed to enter into. The locker rooms are located down the hall from the “Kobe Shrine.”
The items were displayed in the “Kobe Case/Shrine” pictured above before thieves broke in. In email sent to parents, Lower Merion principal Mr. Hughes said that the case “has become a unique point of pride for our school and even a tourist attraction; many basketball fans from all over the world visit our school each year to take photos in front of the display.” Everything that was in the display was stolen.
The items that were stolen are not worth much, but are sentimentally important to the school. “They represent a wonderful time of accomplishment, unity and pride for our school community — the 1996 state championship — and celebrate an alumnus who has made lasting contributions to our school and the sports world,” wrote Sean Hughes.
“I’m not sure what someone is going to do with a state championship trophy,” said Doug Young.
Kobe Bryant graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1996, going straight to the NBA. He finished his high school career with 2,883 points, which is more than any other Philadelphia area basketball player including Wilt Chamberlin (2,252.)
Doug Young said that while he was angry that someone had come in and dishonored a space so important to him and other alumni, “you can take all the stuff away but you’re not going to take the memories and those exciting moments.”
School Officials asked that if anyone has any information related to the incident, to please contact them or Lower Merion police.
Ricky “Reports” Sayer is a journalist at Harriton High School where he is founder and president of the TV station. He will begin attending Syracuse University in Fall of 2017.