The Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center, the house that Bryant built, in Los Angeles. Friday’s matchup is the first time the team has played since Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people were killed in a fatal helicopter accident on Sunday, January 26.
The night of tributes kicked off with Usher singing “Amazing Grace” for the sold-out crowd before Boyz II Men, who also paid tribute to the late NBA player at the Grammys on January 26, performed a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
A video then played of Bryant himself sharing details of his impressive 20-year career with the Lakers while cellist Ben Hong played a cover of “Hallelujah.” The six-minute video concluded with 24.2 seconds of silence — a nod to Bryant, who wore #24 on his Lakers jersey and Gianna who had #2 on her Mamba jersey.
LeBron James also gave an emotional speech as he read off the names of the nine victims of the helicopter crash before going off script and speaking “straight from the heart.”
“We’re all grieving,” the Lakers forward, 35, said. “We’re all hurt. We’re all heartbroken. But when we’re going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family.”
Throughout the game, Bryant and Gianna had courtside seats reserved in their honor and adorned with Bryant’s Lakers jersey and Gianna’s Mamba jersey.
Gianna’s teammates from Bryant’s Mamba Academy basketball team also had special seats in the front row. Teammates Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli were on board the helicopter with Bryant and Gianna, as well as parents Sarah Chester, John and Keri Altobelli and team coach Christina Mauser.
The L.A. basketball team previously postponed their game against the Los Angeles Clippers, scheduled for Tuesday, January 28, out of “respect for the Lakers organization,” the NBA announced on Monday, January 27. They added that the Lakers community was “deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people.”
Ahead of Friday’s game, the L.A. arena was filled with jerseys in Bryant’s honor. Half of the attendees went home with a No. 8 jersey, while the other half received a No. 24, ESPN reported on Friday.
During the game, Trail Blazers player and Bryant’s close friend Carmelo Anthony was noticeably absent. Coach Terry Scotts described his reason for skipping the game as “personal reasons,” USA Today Sports reported at the time.
“I respect it. I know him and Kobe had a great relationship,” Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard told the publication on Friday. “It’s something he was not ready to face and deal with. We all respect his decision.”
Following Bryant’s death, which occurred when the helicopter he and his daughter were traveling in crashed into the Calabasas, California hillside, celebrities and athletes alike mourned the Lakers legend.
Anthony, 35, who is married to La La Anthony, posted a long and heartfelt tribute to his friend via Instagram on Tuesday writing, “Damn Bro!! 😥 I hate when I have so much to say, but I can’t put any of it into words.”
“YOU don’t know how hard it is to try to pretend to smile when I have these clouds of emotions,” he wrote alongside a photo of the two players hugging after a game. The New York native revealed that Bryant was planning to come to the Lakers vs. Trail Blazers game on Friday, and that the last time the friends spoke Bryant told Carmelo “regardless of anything, stay true to [yourself].”
“This pain is almost unbearable Champ! Why you bro? Why GiGi? Why leave Vanessa with this Sadness and Pain. WHY? This will never make sense to me,” the basketball player continued. “There are moments in life when there’s simply NO words to describe the pain within. This is one of them. YOU will continue to be Loved. YOU will be missed. YOU will forever be remembered. YOUR legacy will live on FOREVER. OUR FRIENDSHIP will never be forgotten.”
Carmelo added: “I know YOU will be near, Even if I don’t see YOU. PEACE KING!!! “There Are No Goodbyes. Where Ever You’ll be, You’ll be in Our Hearts” All Praise Due #STAYME7O.”
Bryant and his daughter are survived by his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
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