A sea of purple and gold 8’s and 24’s flooded the court in Staples Center on Friday night as the Los Angeles Lakers paid tribute to their former teammate, the late Kobe Bryant. A pre-game ceremony was dedicated to the NBA legend, who, along with his daughter and seven others, died in a helicopter crash in California last Sunday.
Along with Usher, who sang “Amazing Grace,” and Boyz II Men, who performed the national anthem, Laker LeBron James also gave an emotional tribute. Following a 24.2-second moment of silence for all of those who died in the crash, James wiped his tears, pocketed his pre-written speech, and told the assembled crowd, “I would be selling ya’ll short if I read off this sh** so I’m coming straight from the heart.”
“We’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken,” the Lakers forward said. “…This is a celebration of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken down body, the getting up…the determination to be as great as he could be.”
As players cried and leaned on each other for support, James said that he would continue the legacy of the man who “became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years.”
“I wanna continue along with my teammates to continue his legacy. Not only for this year, but as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love, because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want,” James said. “…In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘mamba out.’ In the words of us, ‘not forgotten.’ Live on brother.”
Just hours before the game, James debuted his new tattoo: A black mamba, with Bryant’s jersey numbers and the words “Mamba 4 Life.” The Instagram debut was accompanied with the simple caption, “My brother ♾.”
The game was the Lakers’ first since Bryant’s death. The stadium displayed clips of Bryant’s games, photos of him with his wife and daughters, and audio bits from interviews and his Emmy Award-winning animated short, “Dear Basketball.” A list of those who died in the helicopter crash was on the scoreboard.
Aside from the two court-side seats that were reserved in honor of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and decorated with their jerseys and flowers, the arena was packed with fans. Those who attended received complementary t-shirts designed as Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jerseys — one half of the arena received shirts with No. 8 while the other half received shirts with the No. 24.