MANILA, Philippines – In their first NBA game back since the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of NBA Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers made the night “all about Kobe.”
It was a night of ceremony and tears at Staples Center as the Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers to remember Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 others who died in the crash on Sunday, January 26 (Monday, January 27, Manila time).
In the darkened arena, a purple-tinged spotlight picked out the two jerseys bearing Bryant’s numbers of 8 and 24 hanging in the rafters. (READ: ‘No wrong emotions’ as Lakers prepare to honor Kobe Bryant)
“Growing up and watching all these great players play and learning so much from them, to now be a part of that wall means everything to me,” said Bryant when he retired in 2016, which was played in the video tribute to him.
“Growing up and watching all these great players play and learning so much from them, to now be a part of that wall means everything to me.” pic.twitter.com/MEOqu3PZcG
“Growing up and watching all these great players play and learning so much from them, to now be a part of that wall means everything to me.” pic.twitter.com/MEOqu3PZcG— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
Bouquets of red roses held open two courtside seats in honor of Bryant and Gianna, while yellow roses sculpted the numbers of 8 and 24 in massive arrangements on the court.
As Usher sang “Amazing Grace,” a hush fell over the crowd.
Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong then played as a video montage of Bryant interviews, interspersed with on-court moments and intimate family pictures, was played on the massive scoreboard.
After a 24-second moment of silence, Boyz II Men – from Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia – brought Lakers star LeBron James to tears with their performance of the Star Spangled Banner in the dimly lit arena.
Prior to the game, James delivered a touching speech that celebrated Bryant’s life and achievements.
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth also performed See You Again during halftime.
The entire Lakers team showed up in purple track suits topped with yellow Kobe Bryant jerseys that sported No. 8 and No. 24.
James – who inked himself with a “Mamba 4 Life” tattoo – wore a No. 24 armband and fingerband while other Lakers players Rajon Rondo, Anthony Davis and Troy Daniels joined him in suiting up in Kobe shoes with their own dedications to the five-time NBA champion.
The grieving Lakers, though, fell to the Portland Trail Blazers, 127-119, as Damian Lilliard erupted for 48 points.
Carmelo Anthony, a close friend of Bryant, did not join the Trail Blazers on their road trip to Staples Center, which was filled with fans wearing Kobe jerseys.
James had prepared for the game with Bryant’s No. 24 jersey hanging next to his locker – the same locker Bryant used when he helped Los Angeles win 5 NBA titles.
“He’s been really a tower of strength for all of us,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of James. “We’re following his lead.”
Staples Center officials had asked fans without tickets to watch the tribute from home, but many couldn’t stay away.
Thousands thronged the downtown arena and the neighboring LA Live entertainment complex, some adding to the memorials of flowers, stuffed animals, balloons and candles that have sprung up and some just finding comfort in being there.
Many wrote on massive paper-covered boards erected for the purpose, although pavements were also black with written messages.
Impressionist painter Reza Safa said his reconstruction of a photograph showing Bryant carrying Gianna on his shoulders was a gift for Bryant’s wife, Vanessa.
“Tonight, I’m not going to the game,” Safa said. “I’m just going to paint.” – with reports from Agence France-Presse