Kobe Bryant’s death has rocked the NBA and city of Los Angeles to its core, and the Lakers as an organization are still grieving the loss of their legend. Fans have flocked to Staples Center by the thousands to pay their respects, and tonight, the Lakers will play their first game since the tragic helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others.
The feeling before the game was that of a funeral. The Lakers crafted one of the most touching tributes in the history of professional sports. It started with a performance by Usher, who gave an incredible rendition of Amazing Grace.
Usher’s performance was followed by a beautiful video built around some of Bryant’s greatest moments and quotes accompanied by cellist Ben Hong.
The moment that truly stood out, though, was the speech that LeBron James gave to end the tribute. In his own words, “Mamba out, but not forgotten.”
When the starting lineups were announced, all five Lakers were called Kobe Bryant.
And then, like every other team in the NBA has since Bryant’s death, the Lakers and Blazers each committed a 24-second and 8-second violation to open the game.
Before the game, the entire Lakers roster came out wearing Bryant’s jersey.
Gianna’s teammates were courtside for the game as well.
In his memory, the Lakers unveiled a number of tributes before the arena even opened on Friday. The most noticeable is one that they will wear. The Lakers will play Friday, and likely the rest of the season, with the following “KB” patch on their jerseys.
That same insignia has also been emblazoned onto the court at Staples Center ahead of Friday’s game.
Additionally, Bryant’s two uniform numbers with the Lakers, No. 8 and No. 24, are both on the Staples Center court as well. Both numbers have already been retired by the Lakers.
A number of players leaguewide changed their jersey numbers to honor Bryant after his death. Most of those players wore No. 8 or No. 24 because of him and were unofficially retiring the numbers out of respect. Quinn Cook, who wore No. 2, went in a different direction. He changed to No. 28, a combination of Gianna’s No. 2 and Kobe’s No. 8, and will wear his new number tonight. Cook grew up a lifelong Lakers fan even before playing for the team.
Last, but certainly not least, the Lakers left the last seats in the Staples Center that Kobe and Gianna Bryant sat in empty, with their jerseys on the chairs.
Tonight’s game, and really, the rest of this season, will be defined by Bryant’s memory. He was one of the greatest players in both Lakers and NBA history, and the team is doing everything it can to make sure that is never forgotten.