LOS ANGELES (AFP) - LeBron James spoke for everyone as the Los Angeles Lakers honored the memory of franchise icon Kobe Bryant on Friday, delivering the simple message: “Not forgotten.”
In a night of ceremony and tears at Staples Center, the Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers in their first NBA game since a helicopter crash claimed the lives of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on Sunday.
Portland’s 127-119 victory — fueled by Damian Lillard’s 48 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists — seemed little more than a footnote.
“We all wanted to win this game really bad,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys poured their guts out, out there. So I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win, but I couldn’t be more happy and more proud of our guys’ effort and their performance.”
Lakers star Anthony Davis admitted he felt anxious and nervous going into a night that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said was “about Kobe Bryant.”
Fans were greeted by a sea of Bryant jerseys — one draping each seat.
In the darkened arena, a purple-tinged spotlight picked out the Bryant jerseys hanging in the rafters — his numbers 8 and 24 both retired by the Lakers.
Bouquets of red roses held open two courtside seats in honor of Bryant and Gianna, while yellow roses sculpted the numbers of 8 and 24 in massive arrangements on the court.
As Usher sang “Amazing Grace,” a hush fell over the crowd.
Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Ben Hong then played as a video montage of Bryant interviews, interspersed with on-court moments and intimate family pictures, was played on the massive scoreboard.