UPDATE: The Lakers team came out for warm-ups all wearing jerseys with the number 8 or 24. A darkened arena saw two musical tributes, including a version of “Amazing Grace” by Usher and a video montage to a cello solo by Ben Hong.
The Lakers also paid tribute to the other eight crash victims with a moment of silence, asking fans to remove their hats during a 24.2 second period. Following that, Boyz II Men performed the National Anthem. At the end of the song, LeBron James was shown in tears. He then addressed the crowd, starting by naming all the lives lost in the crash.
James, who unveiled a new tattoo of the Black Mamba earlier today, declined to read prepared remarks. “We’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken. But when you’re going through something like this, the best thing you can do is lean on your family.” He saluted Laker Nation. “This is truly a family.” He added that tonight is a “celebration of the blood, the sweat, the tears” that embodied Kobe Bryant’s drive toward greatness. “In the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on, brother.”
During the Lakers team introductions, all of the team members were announced as “No 24, from Lower Merion High School,” Kobe Bryant’s introduction. The opening tap resulted in a 24-second violation, as James dribbled out the block in tribute, as many NBA teams have done. Portland also returned the favor, taking an 8-second backcourt violation to return the ball to the Lakers.
EARLIER: One of the toughest weeks in Los Angeles Lakers history climaxes tonight with the team’s first game since the death of all-time great Kobe Bryant.
Although tonight’s game at Staples Center is not the official public memorial – that’s still in the planning stages – it will be viewed as a significant moment in the grieving process for the team and its fans. A game scheduled for Tuesday against the LA Clippers was postponed, and the team has held a memorial luncheon in the days following Bryant’s death.
Tonight’s game will be televised by ESPN, with pre-game starting at 5 PM. The pre-game will also remember the others who were killed along with Bryant in the fatal helicopter crash on Sunday in Calabasas, Calif.
Photos of the Staples Center on Twitter show each seat at the arena drapped with a yellow t-shirt with the team’s colors and No. 8 or No. 24, both worn by Bryant during his 20-year career with the team. Both numbers are now retired by the Lakers. Two seats were left empty and sans t-shirts, presumably as a tribute to Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who also perished in the crash.
The Lakers have also tweeted a logo containing a circle with the initials KB, located on the court just outside the playing field. There is a white star on the “K” in Kobe and the tweet is captioned, “The House That Kobe Built.”
Fans were advised not to come down to the Staples Center, as the game will not be shown on the big screens outside the arena. However, a large contingent ignored the request.
A large memorial has taken shape, as fans leave flowers, candles, jerseys, stuffed animals, balloons, basketballs and other tributes. Fans have been urged to stay home and watch the game with loved ones.
The pile of tributes will stay up until Monday. All of the left items will be cataloged and given to Kobe’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, and her daughters. Perishables like flowers will be ground into mulch and spread throughout the planters in the Staples Center and nearby L.A. Live.
Signs will be placed outside the arena as of Monday asking fans to no longer leave tributes. Fans will instead be encouraged to donate to MambaSportsFoundation.org and MambaOnThree.org, two organizations tied to Bryant, whose nickname was the Black Mamba.
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