Lakers honor Kobe Bryant with pregame ceremony, honorary seats and LeBron speech
LOS ANGELES — As tens of thousands of fans filled the Staples Center on Friday night for the first Los Angeles Lakers game since Kobe Bryant, one of his daughters and seven others died in a helicopter crash, the team honored the NBA legend with a pregame ceremony.
Part of the ceremony was a video showing the highlights not only of Bryant’s basketball career, but of his life, including his happiness at being a father and his glee in winning an Academy Award. As the images played on the screen, Bryant’s voice was used to narrate the video while a cellist in the arena played softly.
Afterward, the team had a 24.2 second moment of silence.
And then Lakers forward LeBron James, who came to the team as a free agent in 2018, gave a speech, starting with reading the names of the nine victims.
James told the fans he had prepared remarks to read, but then said, “Laker nation, man, I will be selling you short if I read off this s***, so I’m going to go straight from the heart.”
James said that he looked at the ceremony as a celebration.
“This is a celebration of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken down body, the gettin’ up, everything, the countless hours,” he said. “The determination to be a great as he could be.”
He said they were celebrating the career of a kid who came to Los Angeles and retired as a 38-year-old longtime veteran who became “the best daddy we’ve seen over the last three years.”
Reserved seats for Kobe and Gianna
Before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, there were two floor seats adorned with roses and jerseys honoring Bryant and daughter Gianna, who was an emerging basketball sensation before her death. They likely were the only two of the 19,000-plus seats to be empty Friday night.
Other photos of the Staples Center showed seats draped with a yellow T-shirt with either a purple and white No. 8 or No. 24. Bryant wore both numbers playing for the team and the Lakers retired both at the end of his career.
Emotions were overwhelming for fan Deni Lopez and her boyfriend, Dennis.
“I have no words,” she said from her seats. “It’s a lot.”
For Dennis it was his first game at Staples Center. He said they came to “share a special moment.”
Fans sign tribute boards
Before the game opened, hundreds of fans were gathering outside the arena, many stopping to sign big white boards with tributes to the five-time NBA champion. A few days ago, there were three; now there are at least 10 boards.
Others paused to drop off mementos at a massive memorial for the nine victims of last Sunday’s crash near Calabasas.
The Lakers tweeted an image of a logo — a circle with the initials KB inside — on the court, just outside the playing area. The circle and letters are in black and the KB is outlined in gold. There is a white star on the K.
On the tweet, the Lakers wrote: “The House That Kobe Built.”
In another tweet, the Lakers posted a photo of a No. 28 jersey, currently worn by point guard Quinn Cook, with the logo on the right shoulder.
The photo was captioned: “2 (forever) 8.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday that his team was focusing on getting ready for game ahead of what is likely to be an emotional evening.
“We’re concentrating on the work,” he said. “There’s therapy in the work. Our whole belief since I got here is that we’re just going to put our heads down, roll our sleeves up and grind, and do the job.”