'Not forgotten': the afflicted Lakers honor Kobe Bryant
THE ANGELS: Lebron James spoke for everyone like him the Los Angeles Lakers honored franchise icon memory Kobe Bryant on Friday, delivering the simple message: Not forgotten.
It was a night of ceremony and tears at the Staples Center when the Lakers organized the Portland Trail Blazers in his first NBA game since a helicopter accident claimed the life of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and another seven on Sunday.
In the dark sand, a spot of purple light dyed the two shirts with Bryant numbers 8 and 24 hanging on the beams.
Bouquets of red roses held open two courtside seats in honor of Bryant and Gianna, while yellow roses sculpted the numbers of 8 and 24 in massive arrangements on the court.
While Usher sang Amazing Grace, a silence fell over the crowd.
Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong played as a video montage of Bryant's interviews, interspersed with moments on the court and intimate family photos, played on the massive board.
After a moment of silence of 24.2 seconds, Boyz II Men of Philadelphia, Bryant's hometown, made James cry with his Star Spangled Banner performance in the low-lit arena.
Then it was James's turn, his voice solemn as I recited the names of all nine killed when the helicopter went down in the rugged hills of Calabasas in suburban Los Angeles: Gianna's basketball teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Alyssa's parents John and Keri Altobelli, Payton's mother Sarah Chester, basketball coach Christina Mauser, pilot Ara Zobayan and, finally, Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
I have something written, James said. They asked me to stay on course or in any case.
But Laker Nation, I would be selling them all if I read this shit, so I go straight to the heart, he added.
The first thing that comes to mind, man, is that it's all about the family.
When I look around this arena, we are all afflicted, all hurt, all disconsolate. When we go through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on your family's shoulders.
James said it would be time for a Bryant memorial, but said he considered tonight a celebration of Bryant's 20-year career, all spent with the Lakers, and the life he had been doing since he retired in 2016 .
This is a celebration of 20 years of blood, sweat, tears, shattered body, getting up, sitting around, countless hours, the determination to be the best possible.
Tonight we celebrate the boy who came here at age 18, retired at age 38 and became the best father we have seen in the last three years.
The fact that I am here now means a lot to me, James added.
I'm going to continue with my teammates to continue his legacy not only for this year but as long as we can continue to play the game of basketball that we love, because that's what Kobe Bryant would want.
So in the words of Kobe Bryant: 'Mamba Out,' James said, recalling Bryant's sign-off when I retired.
But in the words of us: 'Not forgotten'. Live in brother.
And Bryant lived in symbols all over Staples Center - a special KB logo painted on the court, and Lakers team introductions in which every player was introduced From Lower Merion High School, No. 8, Kobe Bryant.
James had prepared for the game with Bryant's No. 24 jersey hanging next to his locker - the same locker Bryant used when he helped Los Angeles win five NBA titles.
It has really been a tower of strength for all of us, said Lakers coach Frank Vogel about James.
We are following your example. Staples Center officials asked fans without tickets to look at the tribute from their home, but many could not stay away.
Thousands crammed the downtown arena and the neighboring LA Live entertainment complex, some added to the memorials of flowers, stuffed animals, balloons and candles that emerged and others simply found comfort in being there.
Many wrote on massive boards covered in paper erected for that purpose, although the floors were also black with written messages.
Impressionist painter Reza Safa said his reconstruction of a photograph showing Bryant carrying Gianna on his shoulders was a gift for Bryant's wife, Vanessa.
Tonight, I don't go to the game, Safa said.
I'm just going to paint.