The Los Angeles Lakers honored Kobe Bryant in the most beautiful way on Jan. 31, with a video tribute and more, ahead of their game against the Portland Trailblazers on Friday night. The game marked the Lakers’ first time back on the court since Kobe’s tragic death in a helicopter crash on January 26 — a crash that also took the life of his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well as seven others. Ahead of the game’s tipoff, the Lakers official Instagram account posted all the names of those who died with nine stars at the bottom of each name. The Lakers were scheduled to play the Los Angeles Clippers this past Tuesday, January 28, however, both teams mutually agreed to postpone tipoff after news of Kobe’s death.
Friday night’s game, however, began with a darkened Staples Center and chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the audience. Usher then took center court to sing “Amazing Grace” while accompanied by a church organ. Kobe’s numbers 8 and 24 were also next to him in large floral arrangements. Shots of players and fans crying in the audience were seen on the jumbotron, along with a montage of athletes throughout other sports wearing Kobe’s #24 in his honor. After Usher was done singing, chants of “Kobe! Kobe!” and “Gigi! Gigi” were heard throughout Staples Center.
The whole tribute was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to watch…I broke down seeing Lebron cry https://t.co/ay8PPgKkKr
— Tom (@thakidochoa) February 1, 2020
Cellist Ben Hong then came on the screen while a series of interviews with Kobe and the highlights of his career played on the jumbotron. Many of his most inspirational lines about his love of the game were shown, along with his quotes about his work ethic. It also showed how he matured as he neared retirement, and his desire to pass his knowledge forward to the next generation of NBA players. The tribute also showed his Oscars win, as well as his love for being a husband and father to his four daughters. It ended with his jersey retirement speech, where he told his fans how much he loved them and “Mamba out!”
Each person in attendance at Friday’s game received a Kobe Bryant shirt, all of which were draped over each seat inside Staples Center. Half of the arena received a No. 8 tee, and the other half got a No. 24 tee in honor of both of Kobe’s numbers throughout his career. The Lakers also added new designs on the hardwood of the stadium, including Kobe’s initials and both of his numbers. Additionally, Lakers players will all wear a black patch with Kobe’s initials on their jerseys.
As the team continues to mourn the death of their beloved Kobe, who played with the Lakers for 20 seasons, the game is not being shown on the screens outside Staples Center like usual. ESPN‘s Ramona Shelburne, who had a close relationship with Kobe, especially at the end of his career, reported the news earlier in the day.
Two days prior to the Lakers’ tribute to Kobe, team owner and president, Jeanie Buss mourned his death in a heartfelt statement on social media.
“Kobe, I don’t know how to express what you mean to me, my family and the Los Angeles Lakers,” Buss wrote in post on Instagram alongside a smiling photo of her with Kobe, his wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Gianna and Natalia, 17. Buss went on to admit that her father, Jerry Buss, who previously owned the Lakers, “loved” Kobe. She shared a story about how the late icon was there for her when her fathered died.
“For everything you did on the court that filled me with so much joy and love, for all the lives you changed through basketball itself, it was that day with Gigi that reignited my drive and determination,” Buss later wrote. She went on to express her sympathies to Kobe’s wife Vanessa and his three other daughters, Natalia, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri, as well as all the families involved.
“We will mourn together, cry together but we will also heal together, love together and win TOGETHER. We love you. Kobe – that’s what you made you so unbelievably special. You not only inspired us towards greatness, you showed us the way,” Buss concluded.
Vanessa broke her silence on the death of her husband and daughter in her return to Instagram on January 30.
“My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” she wrote in a lengthy caption alongside a family photo of her with Kobe and their daughters. Vanessa went on to pay tribute to the other passengers who perished in the helicopter crash, and continued to thank those who’ve supported her family.
She continued, writing, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now… I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.” Vanessa also asked for respect and privacy as her family navigates their new reality without Kobe and Gigi.
Kobe and his daughter Gianna, along with John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton Chester, 13, Christina Mauser, and the pilot, Ara Zobayan all lost their lives on Sunday when Kobe’s private helicopter crashed and burned in the hills of Southern California. The group was traveling to a basketball game in foggy weather when the Oscar-winner’s Sikorsky S-76 chopper fell from the sky.
NBA teams and players around the league have been honoring Kobe with individual tributes and statements. Teams have also taken 24 and 8-second shot clock violations ahead of games to pay tribute to his numbers. The NBA will also pay tribute to Kobe during its annual All-Star Weekend, which takes place in Chicago February 14-16. Our thoughts are with the Bryant family, as well as the other families impacted by this horrific tragedy.