On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers paid an emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away earlier this week
The Los Angeles Lakers played their first game since the tragic passing of their legendary player, Kobe Bryant. The 41-year-old, who lost his life with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others when his helicopter plunged down in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, received one of the most moving and emotional pre-game tributes from his team, who he spent his entire 21-year basketball career proudly playing for.
Every seat in Staples Center was covered with either Bryant’s No. 8 or No. 24 jersey, which ended up on the backs of the fans in attendance — so basically every person there was Kobe.
Cheers of “MVP” echoed through the arena. Then, Usher (pictured above) walked into the middle of the court to sing “Amazing Grace,” standing in front of two gold and purple rose displays featuring the numbers eight and 24. The Jumbotron showed images of athletes across every sports genre also wearing Kobe’s jerseys.
It’s reported that the fans in the arena chanted both Kobe’s and Gigi’s names. Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic then took the stage to play “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen on the cello. Footage of the late star was displayed on the Jumbotron, which brought many of the team’s players to tears, including LeBron James.
The tribute also include a 24.2-second moment of silence for all those who lost their lives: Kobe and Gianna; Payton and Sarah Chester; John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan.
After Boyz II Men sang the National Anthem, James, who cried during most of the tribute, walked out and gave a speech. Kobe’s longtime friend had actually written one ahead of time, but tossed it out so he could truly give it his all.
“As I look around this arena, we’re all grieving,” he said, fighting tears. “Everybody that’s here, this is really truly a family… Now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe… but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the blood, sweat and tears… the determination to be as great as he could be.”
James added that it meant a lot to him to be able to “continue his legacy.”
“In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out,’ but in the words of us, ‘not forgotten,'” he said. “Live on brother.”
Then, a particularly moving moment happened that had everyone on their feet: When the Lakers players were introduced, each player was named as “Kobe Bryant.”
The Blazers made an honorable gesture by letting the Lakers win the jump ball. However, both teams allowed the clock to run in honor of the star — 24 seconds for the Lakers and 8 seconds for the Trail Blazers.
Earlier in the night during warm-ups, the entire Lakers team sported Kobe jerseys that featured “KB” patches on one arm and a black band in honor of all nine victims on the other. Also, the team left two court-side seats open, covered with both Gianna and Kobe’s jerseys in addition to red roses.
Former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson was at the game, sharing about the tribute on social media.
“Usher singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ Boyz II Men singing the National Anthem, and Ben Hong with the cello tribute brought everyone to tears,” Johnson wrote. “We will always love Kobe and he will be forever in our hearts.”
There was also a tribute to Kobe at halftime, with Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth performing “See You Again.”
The Blazers may have beat the Lakers 127-119, but the team and crowd could not have been more united.
Kobe’s surviving wife, Vanessa, and three other children were not present at the memorial. However, she did share an image to Instagram of her late husband and daughter’s court-side seats.
“There is no #24 without #2,” she wrote, adding the tear-jerking hashtags “#GirlDaddy #DaddysGirl #MyBabies #OurAngels #KobeandGigi.”
Earlier in the week, the Bryant family issued a statement explaining that inaccurate media reports made their grieving process even more painful.
“We are disappointed in some media’s broad use of unnamed sources and blind quotes, and remind everyone that the Bryant family will speak on our own behalf when appropriate,” Molly Carter, president of Kobe Inc., said in a statement given to the LA Times.
“To this point, no one has been authorized to speak on behalf of the family regarding any personal details surrounding Sunday’s tragedy, including stories related to the family’s previous air travel decisions,” Carter added. “We ask members of the media for respect and responsible judgment during this difficult time. These inaccurate reports only add unnecessary pain to a grieving family.”