Grieving Lakers honor Bryant

February 01, 2020
LeBron James and CJ McCollum
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass under pressure from CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers on January 31, 2020 during their NBA game in Los Angeles. Trailblazers defeated the Lakers 127-119. / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN

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.