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Lakers honor life of Kobe Bryant with emotional tribute

The lights dimmed. The chants rang out. Ko-be! Ko-be! Then, M-V-P! M-V-P! For the 19,000-plus who packed Staples Center on a somber Friday night, those things were probably expected.

The heartfelt moments that followed came in waves, inducing unpredictable emotions in the building and all over Southern California.

Usher stood in the spotlight at center court, singing “Amazing Grace” with eyes closed. Los Angeles philharmonic cellist Ben Hong set the background music during a stirring video tribute. Boyz II Men wore gold No. 8 jerseys and sang the national anthem. A fan yelled “Jesus loves you, Kobe!” before the crowd broke into chants of “Gi-Gi! Gi-Gi!” to honor Kobe Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, one of the eight who died alongside the Lakers legend in a helicopter crash Sunday morning.

After all of that, the Lakers, a franchise forced to grieve the star shooting guard who helped to add five NBA championship banners to the rafters above, had one more surprise in store.

LeBron James stepped to center court. It was he who read the names of the nine who departed tragically in Calabasas, bringing a city to its knees.

James, in his second-year Lakers, passed Bryant to take third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Saturday night, held a small piece of white paper but quickly tossed it aside.

“I got something written down. They asked me to stay on course, but Laker Nation, I would be selling y’all short if I read off this shit, so I’m going to go straight from the heart,” he said.

“The first thing that comes to mind, as I look around this arena, we’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken, but when we’re going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. And from Sunday morning until this point ... I’ve heard about Laker Nation and how much of a family it is ... and that is absolutely what I’ve seen this whole week. ... This is really, truly a family.

“Now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe, but I’m looking at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years, of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be ... tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad that we’ve seen over the last three years, man.”

Earlier Friday, James revealed on his Instagram that he had gotten a new tattoo in Bryant’s honor on his left thigh. It was a black snake with the inscription “Mamba 4 Life.”

“In the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out,” he told the fans, “But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on, brother.”

The Lakers' tribute to Kobe Bryant 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/jI0wwlSqhk

James put the microphone down on the floor and walked to the Lakers bench. The lights came on. The starting lineups were announced, finishing with Bryant’s name being called as the Lakers’ sixth man for this special night.

The Lakers began the game with a 24-second shot clock violation, and the Portland Trail Blazers followed with an 8-second backcourt violation — as all other NBA games have begun since Sunday.

Then, somehow, the Lakers and Blazers played a game of basketball.

During the five long and painful days since learning of Kobe Bryant’s death, the Lakers have had to confront a difficult question in the midst of their mourning:

How would they honor him in a way that pays proper respect to the legend’s impact on the franchise, the city and the game of basketball as a whole?

Friday afternoon, hours before the Lakers play their first game since Bryant’s death, at 7:30 p.m. against the Portland Trail Blazers, the answers began to be revealed.

The Lakers posted a photo on Twitter of a black circle with the letters “KB” inside of it displayed on the baseline at Staples Center, captioned “The House That Kobe Built.” The Lakers’ home gold uniforms will also feature a patch with the black “KB” logo.

The Lakers' tribute to Kobe Bryant 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/jI0wwlSqhk

pic.twitter.com/SWtFP34LLe

Every fan who enters the building will receive a gold Bryant jersey T-shirt. One side of the arena will wear No. 8; the other will wear No. 24.

The Lakers covered the two seats that Kobe and his daughter, Gianna, occupied the last time they came to Staples Center, when the Lakers played the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 29, with Kobe’s No. 24 jersey and Gianna’s No. 2. They covered the seats with bouquets of red roses.

The names of the nine victims of the helicopter crash are scrolling around the digital banner that envelopes the arena.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said earlier Friday that he and his assistant coaches will wear Bryant’s signature Nike sneakers.

The names of the nine victims of the helicopter crash are scrolling around the digital banner at Staples. pic.twitter.com/tAlN1L7dr5

“We’ve been through our ups and been through our downs. I think the most important part is that we all stayed together throughout.” pic.twitter.com/AJDrr1WDIT

This locker. pic.twitter.com/zoErJY0rnL

2 ♾ 8 pic.twitter.com/DeKsRqcTry

Together. pic.twitter.com/N5JjsOHf0v

“M-V-P” pic.twitter.com/uzLjCuTTlt

LeBron James’ chiseled physique will now forever carry the memory of Kobe Bryant on his left thigh.

Hours before the Lakers play their first game since Bryant’s death against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, James revealed on his Instagram account a new tattoo honoring Bryant, whom James passed for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Saturday night.

The fresh ink shows a “Black Mamba” snake with a rose, a No. 24 and a No. 8, with the inscription “Mamba 4 Life.”

James also posted a picture of him and Bryant sitting on the bench together as Olympians.

The Lakers tweeted a photo of Bryant’s No. 24 jersey hanging on a wall to the side of James’ locker as he prepared for Friday’s game. James uses the same corner locker space that Bryant used during his time as a player.

LeBron James‘ new tattoo pic.twitter.com/Y5LdEmS1Rn

❤️ My brother ♾ #Mamba4Life #RIPKobe #RIPGiGi

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Jan 31, 2020 at 4:21pm PST

Lakers center Dwight Howard wore a No. 8 Bryant T-shirt while shooting some baskets about an a hour and a half before the start of Friday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

pic.twitter.com/BwXWDkbhFm

Howard hasn’t publicly commented on Bryant’s death, but he said this to reporters Saturday after LeBron James passed Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list:

“We don’t appreciate each other as much as we should as a humanity. Something like that should be appreciated. We should appreciate people while they’re alive.”

Dwight Howard said this last night after LeBron passed Kobe on the all-time scoring list: "We don’t appreciate each other as much as we should as a humanity. Something like that should be appreciated. We should appreciate people while they’re alive." pic.twitter.com/2bxWmSiW3O

Friday afternoon, Staples Center and L.A. Live president Lee Zeidman posted a tweet asking fans who were planning to congregate at the adjacent XBox Plaza to remember Kobe Bryant before and during the Lakers’ home game against the Portland Trail Blazers to watch from their homes.

As we morn the loss of Kobe & Gianna Bryant PLEASE If u don’t have a ticket 2 tonites game DON’T come down 2 ⁦@STAPLESCenter⁩ ⁦@LALIVE⁩ Stay home watch w/ur friends & families & hug ur loved ones as we will NOT be showing it on r screens https://t.co/ouUHMxRyeG

Despite Zeidman’s plea, hundreds of people have gathered and continue to bring flowers and other tokens of their affection, honoring Bryant and the eight others who died in Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas.

The Lakers must know their fans, because they brought out fresh white banners of Bryant for visitors to sign on Friday afternoon.

24.2 pic.twitter.com/5O1BBaEKAd

Two hours before Friday’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff for the Lakers’ first game since Kobe Bryant’s death against the Portland Trail Blazers, tickets on the secondary market were going for a minimum of $922 each on StubHub.com.

At the top of the spectrum, two courtside seats were listed at $13,200 each.

For the Phoenix Suns game on Feb. 10, the get-in price at StubHub is $96.

StubHub said it will “honor the legacy of the great Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi,” by donating 100 percent of the fees of tickets sold to Friday’s game to the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.

Lakers great Magic Johnson is in the building for the team’s first game since Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday.

@MagicJohnson enters Staples for tonight’s game #Kobe pic.twitter.com/0yIQG1wBjP

At the request of Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, she will be given some items left by the thousands of fans that came to honor her husband, daughter Gianna and seven others who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Lee Zeidman, the president of Staples Center, L.A. Live and Microsoft Theater, said they also will take the perishable things and compost and spread them around the complex.

Zeidman, who knew Kobe Bryant for 24 years, said the plan is to start to dismantle everything around the area Sunday after the Super Bowl.

“It will have been a week. We have contractually obligated events that are moving in,” he said. “Vanessa had reached out to us and said, ‘Our family would like the items out there.’ So we’re going to catalog every one of them. By that I mean, t-shirts, letters, basketballs, stuffed animals, toys. We’re going to put those in specially made containers and we’re going to ship them to the family.”

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In true LatinX fashion, there’s some musical levity. If you are, like me, a Latina who only has Mariachis and Mariachi-like, live music at weddings and funerals, the music brings this to an even more emotional level. pic.twitter.com/AGSieToc4x

Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson will wear a Kobe Bryant tribute mask during Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Honda Center.

The mask features a silhouette of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, and the names of the seven other victims of Sunday morning’s helicopter crash.

The helmet portrays a purple-and-gold No. 24 on one side and a No. 8 on the other.

This Kobe Bryant tribute mask will be worn by John Gibson tonight as the #NHLDucks take on the Lightning at @HondaCenter. The mask features a silhouette of Kobe and his daughter, Gianna, surrounded by the names of the seven other victims of the tragedy.🎨: @ShellShockCo pic.twitter.com/uKLFmdnPpl

John Gibson has the Mamba mentality. #LetsGoDucks pic.twitter.com/LTMwGzLUy3

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