It was a surreal and heartbreaking night at Staples Center as the Lakers played their first game following the death of Kobe Bryant.
During a twenty-five minute ceremony, which featured performances by Usher and Boyz II Men, and an emotional speech from LeBron James, the organization saluted one of the game’s all-time greats, who, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning.
“We’re all hurt and heartbroken,” James said, fighting back tears.
Standing next to two large bouquets of flowers, shaped in Bryant’s jersey numbers, 8 and 24, James told the sold-out crowd that Bryant’s memorial would be coming soon and that Friday night was instead a “celebration” of the basketball icon, otherwise known as “The Black Mamba.”
James honored the other victims who died as well and began his speech by reading their names: Bryant’s daughter Gianna (“Gigi”), John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and Peyton Chester and Ara Zobayan.
Earlier, the 20,000 fans at Staples chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” and then “Gigi! Gigi!” for his daughter.
Gigi’s teammates were sitting courtside for the game. The Lakers, who held a 24.2 second moment of silence for Bryant and his daughter, also saved seats for the two, adorned with their jerseys and a bouquet of roses.
The somber telecast, broadcast by ESPN, was kicked off by Usher singing an extended version of “Amazing Grace.”
Boyz II Men, who performed a Bryant tribute with Alicia Keys at Sunday’s Grammys, harmonized the Star-Spangled banner.
Later, at halftime, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, would pair up for a touching rendition of “See You Again.”
At the heart of Friday’s ceremony, though, was a gut-wrenching tribute video, narrated by Bryant, himself, and featuring the music of cellist Ben Wong, that captured Bryant’s staggering legacy as a player and off-court success as an Oscar-winner, husband and father of four children.
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