It was a deeply emotional scene at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles Friday (January 31) evening. The Los Angeles Lakers returned to their home court for the first time since the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and their seven friends last Sunday (January 26). Although the NBA sent out an official message to fans asking them not to descend on the area, fans came by the thousands and stood outside to pay their respects to the basketball icon.
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Two empty seats were left open in honor of Kobe and Gianna with red roses, and the teen’s basketball team sat courtside in their memory. Prior to tip-off against the Portland Trail Blazers, each of the Lakers came onto the court wearing Bryant’s jersey. When the starting lineup was announced, they were all said to be “Kobe Bryant.”
In the dimly lit arena, Usher sang “Amazing Grace” and LeBron took a moment to memorialize his fallen friend. “Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years,” LeBron shared. “Around this arena, we’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken, but when we going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. From Sunday morning all the way to this point—I heard about Laker Nation before I got here last year, about how much of a family it is. And that is absolutely what I’ve seen this whole week. Not only form the players, not only from the coaching staff, not only from the organization but from everybody.”
He continued, “Everybody that’s here, this is truly, truly a family. And I know Kobe and Gianna and Vaness and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their heart.” Watch the touching ceremony including the National Anthem by Boyz II Men below.