Los Angeles Lakers' championship rings pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, social justice movement

LOS ANGELES -- Jason Arasheben, aka Jason of Beverly Hills, waited 10 years for a chance to design another Los Angeles Lakers championship ring. And then when the jeweler got his opportunity, Arasheben had to turn the ring around in just four weeks, rather than the customary three to four months he would get during a normal NBA offseason.

"I'm used to these last-minute orders because I also service over 200 guys in the league as personal clients, including a bunch on the team," Arasheben told ESPN this week. "So I'm used to this, 'Hey Jason, it's two days from Christmas, but I need you to make this custom piece for me for my wife.'"

The rush this time around wasn't due to poor planning. It was the pandemic. The Lakers' season wrapped up with the championship on Oct. 11 in Orlando, Florida. On Nov. 5, the league's owners and the players' union agreed to start the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22.

Arasheben, an L.A. native who grew up with dreams of playing for the Lakers, designed five NBA championship rings in the past -- including rings for the Lakers' back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and three rings for the Golden State Warriors. He was commissioned for the 2020 ring and figured time would be tight, but later had to throw production into warp speed.

"I thought I had until the first week of January and I had essentially four weeks from the time we finalized the design to finish the entire production," Arasheben said. "Which is a feat in itself and very difficult to do, but we were able to accomplish that, thank God."

Ever ambitious to up the ante when it comes to basketball bands, Arasheben had two goals for the Lakers rings: storytelling and sizzle.

"That was actually the fun part about this particular ring, is that there was so much story to tell," Arasheben said. "This was a season unlike any other in history."

He incorporated different elements, which he playfully refers to "Easter eggs," to represent all the moments that stood out in what was the longest season in league history. To recognize the 95 days the Lakers spent in the Orlando bubble, each of the 17 purple amethyst stones comprising the "L" on the ring's face weighs .95 carats -- and of course the 17 signifies the 17th championship in franchise history.

There are .52 carats of yellow diamonds in every ring, representing the 52 regular-season wins by the Lakers. The word "unity" is etched into every ring, a reference to the social justice movement that the entire NBA, not just the Lakers, took on as a cause. The phrase "Leave A Legacy" -- the Lakers' playoff slogan -- is also emblazoned in gold in LeBron James' handwriting on every ring.

Lakers legend Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in January, has several tributes on the totem. There is a Black Mamba snake encircling every player's uniform number, and the ring has a first-of-its-kind detachable top that reveals another Bryant salute.

"We created a removable top that exposes the rafters that are up in Staples Center with [jerseys of] all of the retired Laker greats, with a special emphasis put on Kobe's No. 8 and No. 24 jersey, and it's set on a snakeskin-texture background," said Arasheben, adding that he developed a ball-bearing system to allow the top of the ring to be removed.

All told, the ring weighs in at 16.45 carats and features 804 stones.

"This ring eclipses last year's NBA championship ring as the most valuable NBA championship ring in history with the most amount of diamond carat weight than any other ring in history," Arasheben said. "I mean, this ring, we really wanted to make a statement. It's been 10 years since the Lakers have won. We wanted to come out and really make a statement and really reward these players for a job well done."

To help design the ring, Arasheben invited famed streetwear designer Don C to collaborate on the process. Don C, whose "Just Don" retro Lakers shorts were sported by James in his first public appearance after signing with L.A. at the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League, relished the chance to cross over into the jewelry realm.

"I'm just humbled and honored that Jason brought me in," Don C told ESPN. "He's the true visionary because he had this idea with the Warriors ring in 2017. He was like, 'Man, I want to bring somebody from your culture to add some sauce to the championship ring.' And then another visionary idea he had was saying, 'Man, we have to make this more than just a ring.' Adding other products like a hat or some type of accessory to shift to represent that if I don't have on a ring, but that I am a ring holder. So we built on those ideas and it added to our creative relationship and we just kept building on it."

Because of COVID-19 protocols, it was an unconventional ring ceremony for the Lakers. Rather than have Lakers governor Jeanie Buss hand out the hardware, as her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, did a decade ago, the rings were placed on individual pedestals on the court for the players to retrieve.

With no fans in the building, the Lakers tried to bring a sense of the moment to the proceedings by inviting first responders at UCLA Health to recognize the staff and assistant coaches when they received their rings. And unbeknownst to the players, head coach Frank Vogel and vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, members of their families were asked to record video greetings for when it was their turn to get their rings.

"Our shared times are about the pandemic and family," Lakers president of business operations Tim Harris, who oversaw the planning of the ceremony, told ESPN. "We're giving a nod to the importance of family at this time and the value of our first responders."

A different kind of ceremony, a different kind of season, a different kind of ring.

"I think we killed it. Because I think when you look at all the typography, the icons on the ring, the different design elements, it's new," Don C told ESPN. "And then representing culture, too. The culture was a big part of this season where we wanted to make it about not just the Lakers' organization, but everybody. This is the inclusive year. This is about everyone."