For the first time since Kobe Bryant‘s death, the Los Angeles Lakers took the court at Staples Center with heavy hearts.
Before the game and any tribute began, the arena was overwhelmed with the sound of Bryant’s voice backed “Hallelujah” intrumentals.
“Once upon a time, there was a young basketball player who had dreams of becoming one of the greatest basketball players of all time,” Bryant said at the beginning of a moving montage of his words, and ended things with those famous two words he uttered at the end of his last game: ‘Mamba out!'”
The tribute began with the Lakers 24.2-second silence to honor Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, known as “Gigi,” and seven others who died when the helicopter he had chartered that crashed Sunday. The length of the silence represented one of Bryant’s two Lakers uniform number, 24, and Gigi’s youth basketball number, 2.
The homage continued as Carmelo Anthony, who’s on the opposing Trailblazers decided to sit out, reportedly still too emotional after the legend’s death. Usher even took to the court to perform “Amazing Grace” as a light was dimly lit on Kobe’s two retired numbers in the rafters.
But the gravity of the moment really hit when the current leader of the Lakers, LeBron James, took to the floor to speak his piece, tossing away the prepped notes he had in hand.
“I’m going to go straight from the heart,” he said to applause. “We’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken.”
“Everybody that’s here this is really truly, truly a family, and I know Kobe and Gianna and Vanessa and everybody thanks you guys from the bottom of their heart as Kobe said,” James told the crowd. “Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years, man.”
“So, in the words of Kobe Bryant: ‘Mamba Out,’ but in the words of us: ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”
The Lakers would go on to lose the contest 127-119 to the Trail Blazers, but as we all the know, the night had a much bigger purpose.