Following days of immeasurable grief and mourning over the tragic, sudden death of Kobe Bryant, basketball fans around the world gathered on Friday night to watch the NBA officially pay their respects to the beloved star.
The Los Angeles Lakers put together an emotional tribute to the team’s legendary player in their first game at the STAPLES Center since the fatal helicopter crash that killed the 41-year-old athlete and claimed the lives of 13-year-old Gianna Bryant and seven others on January 26.
As expected, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the home team got suited up to take on the Portland Trailblazers, who ended up winning the game 127-119. Of course, the night was less about the scoreboard and more about celebrating the life of Bryant, who many consider as one of the best to have ever played the sport.
In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of the night’s events:
Setting The Stage
The Lakers organization made sure to deck out “the house that Kobe built” with purple and gold t-shirts with Bryant’s name and jersey number on every single seat. One half of the area got tees with Kobe’s first number, 8, while the other side got shirts with his other number, 24.
Two reserved seats were adorned with roses and respective jerseys for Kobe and GiGi:
The hardwood playing court was also updated to include the late star’s initials “KB,” as seen here:
Many players and coaches also got in on the action by sporting Kobe’s signature sneaker for the game and by rocking both of his numbers on their warm-up uniforms.
The Musical Tributes
R&B artist Usher got things started with a truly moving rendition of Amazing Grace as video showing reactions to Kobe and GiGi’s death from around the league played on the videoboard:
After the performance, the crowd broke into a chant of Kobe and GiGi’s names. Ugh, so heartbreaking.
Next, Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen on the cello as footage from Kobe’s impressive basketball career, tender moments with his family, and of Bryant at the Oscars appeared on the screens above the court.
Just before tip-off, the group Boyz II Men also performed the Star-Spangled Banner.
The musical tributes to Kobe continued at half-time when Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth took center court to perform their single, See You Again:
We can’t imagine anyone made it through that song without wiping their eyes. So powerful.
LeBron James’ Heartfelt Speech
LeBron James, a close friend of Bryant’s and his professional successor on the Lakers, delivered a heartfelt speech during the pregame events that seemed to really hit all the right notes about the sudden and tragic loss.
“I’ve gotten something written down,” Lebron shared, before scrapping his pre-approved remarks to “go straight from the heart.”
James choked back tears as he added:
“As I look around this arena, we’re all grieving. 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.”
He went on to offer his condolences to Kobe’s loved ones including wife Vanessa Bryant and their surviving daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, as well honor the other families in mourning. He tearfully stated:
“Tonight we celebrate the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and become the best dad that we’ve seen over the last three years. Tonight is a celebration.”
LeBron spoke at length about the generational impact Kobe had and will continue to have as they carry on his legacy for years to come:
“The fact that I’m here means so much to me. I want to continue on with my teammates to continue his legacy, not only for this year but as long as we get to play the game of basketball that we love because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want.
In the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on, brother.”
WATCH the emotional speech (below):
Remembering The Kid From Lower MErion High School
As part of the larger tributes on the night, the NBA announced they will be making a joint donation of $100,000 with the National Basketball Player Association to the MambaOnThree Foundation, which was created with the sole intention of providing support to the families who lost a loved one in the helicopter crash.
When it was time to start the game, each player on the Lakers team was announced as if it were Kobe getting ready to take the court, as seen here:
How incredibly beautiful. Every single moment on Friday night
Our thoughts remain with all those affected by the tragedy and we wish everyone peace and comfort during this incredibly difficult time.
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