Lakers set out painfully to return to King Kobe's court


LOS ANGELES – This was the first step for a city whose own mayor called it "broken" a few days earlier. The fact is that Eric Garcetti really didn't resort to exaggeration. This 80-square-kilometer city felt like the world's largest open-air funeral home all week long. Their deeply grieving citizens mourned nine of them who died in a helicopter accident last Sunday.

Only one of them was famous, but Kobe Bryant's reach and personality were so great that every conversation, radio, almost every segment of local television news had about him, his basketball legacy, and his family. and his daughter Gianna, who perished in the Calabasas hills.

On Friday night, the Lakers opened the doors to play a basketball game for the first time since the death of one of their key alumni at the Staples Center. Portland was the enemy and although Carmelo Anthony – one of Bryant's closest friends – was on the blazer list, Anthony was still too distraught to even be in the building.

"This pain is almost unbearable, Champ," the ex-Knicks star wrote on an Instagram post a few days ago, in which he also revealed: "You just called me and told me that you were going to play on Friday evening come you were proud of me and despite everything you remain loyal to me and STAYME7O. "

Everyone deals with it in their own way. In early Friday, the Lakers yellow Kobe jerseys – 8 and 24 with the same representation – draped on each of the 19,068 seats in the Staples Center.

On Thursday, the clippers had played the first basketball game in this building since the crash. The Clippers usually keep the retired Lakers jerseys that cover the arena rafters covered with fabric, but this time they made Kobes' two retired numbers visible and put them in the spotlight throughout the game. In a pregame speech, Clippers star Paul George Garcettis repeated the sad civic description.

"Our city is suffering," he had said. "Four days ago, nine people died in Calabasas and left a gaping hole in the heart of Los Angeles."

The Los Angeles Lakers honor Kobe Bryant and daughter Gigi with empty seats in the courtyard.
The Los Angeles Lakers honor Kobe Bryant and daughter Gigi with empty seats in the courtyard.Getty Images

It's right and it's good that George was only the last to honor the other people who were in that helicopter on Sunday morning, along with 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter – pilot Ara Zobayan, 50; John Altobelli, 56; Keri Altobelli, 46; Alyssa Altobelli, 13; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45; and Payton Chester, 13.

But for those two days at the Staples Center, it was Bryant, embedded in the tear ducts and the battered hearts of the faithful, who kept coming to the LA Live Plaza (Thursday's guests included Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and Sacramento Coach Luke Walton, a former Bryant teammate). On Friday, the police had to formally ask the public to stay away from the ongoing vigil if they did not have tickets to the game. Fearing crowd control problems, the Lakers decided not to show the Kobe tribute on screens on the court before the game.

It is Kobe who was the inspiration for the new tattoo that LeBron James and Anthony Davis flaunted on Thursday training and a black mamba shootaround on Friday, which inspired Bryant's nickname. The Lakers' coaches planned to wear Kobe's signature Nike Big Stage / Parades shoe, which was part of the Kobe 5 series he wore in 2010 when he won the last of his five titles with the Lakers.

Friday night was a necessary step in healing regardless of the final grade, as it seemed to channel so much of Kobe Bryant's essence: he would understand, like everyone else, that life goes on amid grief and pain. On Friday, the Lakers seemed to have doubled their strength to honor Kobe in the best possible way by winning a 17th NBA championship that would bind the hated Celtics forever.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe BryantGetty Images

There will soon be another day, a public memorial, maybe in Staples, maybe in a place more suited to Kobe than one of LA's most important icons – the Dodger Stadium, the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl.

"This isn't just going to be a man who was a basketball player," Garcetti said. "This is about a father, this is about a leader, this is about a filmmaker, this is about an artist, this is about someone who was so much more than just who he was on the pitch. "

The emotional thousands that filled the Staples Center on Friday night matched every syllable of that feeling.