On Friday night, the Lakers returned to action for the first time since Kobe Bryant’s death last weekend, and the atmosphere inside Staples Center was one fraught with mourning but also a joyous sense of celebration for the life for one of the NBA’s biggest and most transcendent icons. Well before tip-off, the tributes had already started to pour in, as the team announced that the arena would be covered with free t-shirts for everyone in attendance bearing the numbers 8 and 24 in remembrance of the two jersey numbers Kobe wore during his Hall of Fame career.
Beyond that, players on both teams were outfitted with “KB” patches, which matched the new logo that accented the court. LeBron also unveiled the new “Mamba 4 Life” tattoo he got recently as a tribute to his long-time friend and on-court rival. And LeBron was just getting started.
After Usher’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” and cellist Ben Hong’s performance of “Hallelujah,” LeBron took front and center to address the crowd gathered at Staples Center to pay their respects to Kobe. He started by reading the names of each of the victims who died in the tragic helicopter crash that took lives of nine people, including Kobe and his daughter Gianna.
“Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years.” pic.twitter.com/0sS7e91cuz
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
From there, LeBron quickly discarded his pre-written speech so he could speak to the crowd off the cuff. Considering the circumstances and the gravity of the moment, it’s truly impressive the way LeBron was able to maintain his composure and help shepherd the whole basketball-watching world through this ordeal.
But then again, LeBron has never been one to shy away from the moment, no matter what the stakes. Kobe would most certainly be proud. LeBron closed on a perfect note: “So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba Out,’ but in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”
To say it’s been an emotional night at Staples Center would be an enormous understand, but the love and support inside the arena from everyone involved has been truly something to behold.