A teary-eyed LeBron James spoke to the Staples Center crowd for four minutes before his Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
James recited the names of the nine victims from Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, the legendary former Lakers guard. Then he tossed his prepared notes to the floor and pledged to “go straight from the heart.”
“I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe,” said James, who could be seen crying when Boyz II Men performed the national anthem before he spoke.
“But I look at this as a celebration tonight,” James said.
His powerful words punctuated a poignant and emotional pregame ceremony that also featured a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” by the music artist Usher.
Chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” for Kobe Bryant preceded Usher’s performance and resumed when he finished singing — followed by chants of “Gi-gi, Gi-gi,” referring to Gianna Bryant’s nickname.
The Lakers’ longtime public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter then introduced all five members of the starting lineup with essentially the same greeting: “No. 24, 6-6, 20th year, from Lower Merion High School, Kooobee Bryant.”
Jerseys for Kobe (No. 24) and his daughter Gianna (No. 2) were laid over the same seats the father and daughter occupied almost a month ago at their last Staples Center appearance.
On Dec. 29, Kobe and Gianna sat courtside to watch James and Dallas’ Luka Doncic face off. The Bryants took pictures with Doncic after the game.
Speaking of the way he has been embraced in grief by what he referred to as “Laker Nation,” James said: “This is really, really truly a family.”
And Kobe, James said, is “a brother to me.”
Watch the pregame speech by LeBron James.
At halftime, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth performed ‘See You Again.’
Damian Lillard went full-Kobe in the third quarter.
Blazers guard Damian Lillard was on fire in the third quarter from all over the court, especially from 3. And then there was this dunk:
The Lakers honored Kobe and Gianna with roses on their courtside seats.
Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, posted a photo on Instagram with the caption: “There is no #24 without #2.”
‘Te amo Kobe’: Fans celebrate the Lakers star’s life.
As the sun set a dazzling pink behind Staples Center on Friday, thousands of fans poured through L.A. Live, leaving flowers, jerseys and cards, and writing messages on the dozen or so tarp walls set up in the plaza.
Many people simply scribbled their memorial cards in permanent marker on the pavement outside the arena. Hardly a square could be found without a message. “I named my son after you,” one read. “Te amo Kobe,” read another.
Reza Safa, 59, had set up an easel to paint a portrait of Kobe and Gianna that he planned to give to Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife. A small crowd gathered around the canvas to watch him add the finishing touches.
“He stuck with this team for so long, he was like a young brother who’s fighting for you,” said Safa, dabbing his brush into a paper plate. “It’s hard to describe it.”
He gestured at the masses around him. “I was wondering if that had happened to someone else, would it feel the same.”
A five-piece band marched toward Figueroa Street, blasting the sound of horns and the pop of cowbell. After they finished one song, the crowd moving with them started chanting “Kobe! Kobe!”
Along Figueroa, people in cabanas handed out yellow roses and sold Kobe memorial shirts. The giant video billboards across from the arena, which usually display advertisements for Nike, said “Mamba Forever” alongside an image of Bryant.
Veronica Martinez-Figuerres, 84, from Lanai, Hawaii, was attending her first N.B.A. game as a birthday present.
The nine family members she was attending with had booked their tickets in November; now a scalper said his cheapest was $800. The family had bought a message to appear on the video board during the game, but the team canceled all such displays.
“It’s a special occasion, but it’s also bittersweet,” her son-in-law Bill Lee said. “But it’s amazing that we’re all here.”
Martinez-Figuerres, wearing a purple Lakers jacket and Lakers beanie, called Bryant her favorite player and summarized 20 years of memories in two words: “Number eight.” — Louis Keene
LeBron James shows off new Mamba tattoo.
In the hours before Friday night’s game, Lakers forward LeBron James posted a picture on Instagram of himself and Bryant sitting on the bench and what appeared to be a tribute tattoo to Bryant with a coiled black snake and the numbers 8 and 24. The tattoo also read, “Mamba 4 Life.”
Trail Blazers players are still figuring out how to cope.
Carmelo Anthony, who was good friends with Bryant, was not with the team on Friday and was listed as out for the game for personal reasons, according to the team. Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic posted a message about Kobe and Gianna on Twitter:
Staples Center became an impromptu memorial.
More crowds gathered outside of Staples Center on Friday afternoon to mourn Bryant, leaving flowers and jerseys and stuffed animals. It had become the site of an impromptu memorial and an outlet for collective grief, as fans wrote heartfelt messages on photographs and posters, offering their appreciation for the moments that Bryant had created and their condolences to the families of those who had also died.
Inside the arena, replicas of Bryant’s jersey were draped over every seatback — nearly 20,000 of them in all — ahead of Friday night’s game between the Lakers and the Trail Blazers.
Additionally, the N.B.A. announced plans to honor Bryant and the other victims of Sunday’s crash at next month’s All-Star Game. The players on the team captained by the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo will wear No. 24, which Bryant wore for the second half of his career, while the players on the team captained by James will wear No. 2, which is the number that Gianna Bryant wore. Both teams will wear patches that feature nine stars, representing the nine victims of the crash. — Scott Cacciola
The Lakers practiced on Friday.
The Lakers practiced this afternoon before their game at Staples Center against the Portland Trail Blazers at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. The players did not speak to reporters but some players, like LeBron James, have spoken of their anguish on social media.
“The biggest thing is that there’s no wrong emotions when it comes to something like this,” Coach Frank Vogel said after the team’s morning shootaround. “We’re going to go out and play each game embodying what he stood for. We’re focusing on the work and letting the achievements come after.”
Hours before the game, the Lakers revealed on Twitter a tribute to Bryant on the court.
Here’s what we know about the helicopter crash.
The Fog: Although the flight took off in clear skies in Orange County, it eventually encountered a fog so thick that it nearly blinded drivers on the freeway. Visibility was so poor that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its fleet of helicopters.
Because of the company’s certification limitations, the pilot was required to fly only in conditions of sufficient visibility to navigate visually.
The Crash: The helicopter fell at a rate of about 23 miles an hour and slammed into the hill in a “high-energy impact crash,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board. It was also traveling forward at about 152 miles an hour just before it crashed, according to radar data.
The aircraft slammed into a hillside at 1,085 feet after climbing to 2,300 feet; it may have missed clearing the top of the hill by 20 to 30 feet.
The Helicopter: The Sikorsky S-76B was not outfitted with a system to warn pilots if they are getting too close to the ground, technology that is voluntary but has been recommended by the N.T.S.B. for more than a decade.
A terrain awareness and warning system can help prevent crashes, especially when pilots have limited visibility, by providing a detailed image of surrounding terrain and triggering auditory and visual warnings.
‘Oh, dear Lord. Something happened.’
Bryant’s death has become what psychologists call a “flashbulb memory,” the type of event that creates vivid pictures in people’s minds about where they were when they heard about it: at the supermarket, driving home, hanging out with friends.
A group of parishioners and clergy at a church a half mile from where the helicopter went down certainly remember and are likely to for a long time. John Branch visited, and tells their stories.
Shauntel Lowe contributed to this report.