Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany aren't big sports fans, but over the past 20 years, they have immortalized some of the biggest names in sports across the country.
Their next project might be their most spectacular one: a statue of Shaquille O'Neal suspended in the air outside Staples Center.
The Highland Park, Illinois, husband-and-wife tandem got their major break in 1994, when they beat out 11 other sculptors for the opportunity to create the Michael Jordan statue that now sits in front of the United Center in Chicago. Since then, they have been involved in the creation of a wide variety of sports pieces, including Harry Caray at Wrigley Field, Curly Lambeau at Lambeau Field, Gordie Howe at Joe Louis Arena and Al McGuire at Marquette University. They also have become the sculptors of choice for Star Plaza outside of Staples Center, home to their statues of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Luc Robitaille and Chick Hearn.
On Wednesday, O'Neal found out that he'd be the next Laker honored while he was a guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." It was at that moment Amrany was sure he had succeeded with his unique design for O'Neal's statue.
"I was watching Jimmy when he showed the image to Shaquille for the first time, and I knew I got it because Shaquille did not say anything," said Amrany, 61, who was raised in the Jordan Valley in Israel and met Julie, 67, in 1985 while they were studying art in Italy. They were married two years later. "I'm sure the wheels were running in his head. 'What is that? How are they going to do that?' It caught him off guard. It's something that's never been done before."
What makes the design for O'Neal's statue unique is that it has no base and is seemingly floating in mid-air. In one of Amrany's renderings, a father is raising his child underneath the statue of O'Neal hanging off the rim during a fierce dunk. But how is that possible?
"Lots of stainless steel," Amrany said. "That will allow 10,000 pounds to hang up in the air."
O'Neal's statue is expected to weigh between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds when it is completed, and it will be connected to the Staples Center balcony overlooking Star Plaza.
"The inspiration when I worked to design this piece was the visualization of this 300-pound man coming at you," Amrany said. "You could not put this sculpture on a base; it had to come from the air, and you have to get the feeling of power that this man can move everyone to get to his target and put the ball in the rim and hang on it like he's in his backyard. You have to create a piece that will be totally free of gravity, so we didn't want to create a sculpture on a base. We wanted to eliminate the gravity and create the feeling of this massive man coming at you."
Amrany has not spoken to O'Neal yet, but anticipates to sit down with him at some point for a measurement and photo session. The plan is to reveal the statue during the 2016-17 season.
"On some pieces, we have the opportunity to meet with the actual athlete that we're sculpting, and in those cases, it's to our advantage to do that if the person is still alive," Rosenblatt-Amrany said. "It makes it more engaging when the person can actually be involved."
After the O'Neal project is completed, the next Star Plaza statue honoree is likely to be Kobe Bryant, who will play his final game this year. But for now, Amrany is being tight-lipped about future plans.
"By 2017, we will have other projects landing in Los Angeles," he said. "But it's a secret until it's unveiled."