Emotions Run High In Lakers' First Game Since Kobe Bryant's Death
The Black Mamba, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others who died in the helicopter crash on Sunday local time were paid tribute at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.
The venue, dubbed "The House That Kobe Built" on the Los Angeles Lakers' Instagram account, became a monument on Saturday to the team's most iconic player.
Bryant, a Lakers icon regarded as one of the best players in NBA history, was among nine people who died last week in a helicopter crash.
The 41-year-old and his daughter Gigi's usual courtside seats at the venue were reserved with their playing jerseys -- Gigi played for her father's Mamba Academy and was nicknamed "Mambacita" -- and red roses.
Bryant was also memorialised on the hardwood floor, on every team member's jersey and in signage across the venue.
A game between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers set for earlier in the week was postponed, so this game against the Portland Trail Blazers is the first time the team has hit the court since the accident.
Dwight Howard #39 warms up before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Image: Harry How/Getty
Portland star and close friend of Bryant's, Carmelo Anthony, sat out the game reportedly due to continued grief and emotional stress from the tragedy.
The game will feature several tributes to Bryant and the others who lost their lives in the helicopter crash. Fans attending the game received No. 8 and No. 24 shirts in honour of Bryant, and a special "KB" logo was added to the court.
R&B star Usher performed a tribute to Bryant during the pre-game ceremony, while Boyz II Men were selected to sing the national anthem.
A lengthy video tribute to Bryant and his family was played on the big screen prior to the game, while Lakers star LeBron James made an emotional, off-the-cuff speech about his late friend.
Fans gathered outside the venue in the LA Live entertainment precinct, paying tribute to their beloved basketball star, his 13-year-old daughter and the other victims of the helicopter crash.
James also debuted a tattoo dedicated to his on-court rival-turned-mentor prior to the game.