Thousands mourn Kobe Bryant when Lakers return to the LA court

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Segway-like vehicles were also used by the police to keep an eye on the large crowd on Marina Beach.

Tens of thousands of Kobe Bryant fans flooded the Staples Center grounds on Friday before his former team's first game since his death in a helicopter crash earlier this week that stunned basketball fans in the city and around the world.

Fans wearing Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers jerseys laid flowers, wrote messages on temporarily erected white walls, and told stories about the 41-year-old who died on January 26, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others came.

Mourners meet outside the Staples Center ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers home game to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star and daughter Gianna on January 31, 2020 in Los Angeles, California, United States.

Mourners meet outside the Staples Center ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers home game to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant after a helicopter crash killed the retired basketball star and daughter Gianna on January 31, 2020 in Los Angeles, California, United States.
| Photo Credit:
REUTERS

"Kobe Bryant meant a lot to me. I've been watching him for 20 years since he's been in the league and I just love him, ”said Lakers fan Karina Mendoza. "I want to thank him for everything he did for us here in LA."

"It is a sad and beautiful day. You can see all the people here and all Lakers fans. We are like family. I love you Kobe, I love you Gigi and all families. "

In the arena, where tributes were expected during the game, Kobe and Gianna jerseys were placed on the two seats on the sidelines where the pair sat when the Lakers last played. "I was surprised to see how much it affected me when I got here and saw these makeshift monuments," said 71-year-old Lakers fan Jim Bendat. “My children grew up with Kobe and Kobe meant so much to all three of my children. So I experienced it all with my children. It's almost like losing a child in a way. "

Singer Usher will perform during a memorial before an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers in Los Angeles on Friday, January 31, 2020.

Singer Usher will perform during a memorial before an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers in Los Angeles on Friday, January 31, 2020.
| Photo Credit:
AP

Bryant and the eight others died when the helicopter they took to a girls' basketball tournament crashed in fog on a hill northwest of Los Angeles, plunging fans into mourning and sending shock waves through the sports world.

After Bryant's death, the National Basketball Association (NBA) canceled a game planned for the Staples Center between the Lakers and the Los Angles Clippers on Tuesday, noting the need to give the team time to mourn.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said earlier this week that the tragedy would bring the Western Conference's leading Lakers, an already closely-knit group, closer together, and recognized team leaders LeBron James and Anthony Davis as helpful in helping players deal with their emotions ,

Training on Thursday started with a flag soccer game on an outfield near the Lakers practice area in the so-called "therapeutic" sun of Southern California. "We strive to make us feel good," said Vogel. "Laughter is always a good remedy for something like this when it is appropriate."

It was not clear whether surviving members of Bryant's family would attend the Friday game.

View this post on Instagram

My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who have shown support and love in this terrible time. Thank you for all prayers. We definitely need it. We are devastated by the sudden loss of my esteemed husband Kobe – the amazing father of our children. and my beautiful, sweet Gianna – a loving, thoughtful and wonderful daughter and wonderful sister of Natalia, Bianka and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their relatives on Sunday, and we share their grief very closely. There are currently not enough words to describe our pain. I console myself knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew they were loved so deeply. We were so incredibly blessed to have her in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our wonderful blessing that was taken from us too early. I am not sure what our life holds beyond today, and it is impossible to imagine life without it. But we wake up every day and keep pushing because Kobe and our little girl Gigi shine on us to show us the way. Our love for them is infinite – and that means immeasurable. I just wish I could hug, kiss and bless her. Have them here with us forever. Thank you for sharing your joy, grief and support with us. We ask that you give us the respect and privacy we need to control this new reality. In honor of our Team Mamba family, the Mamba Sports Foundation has established the MambaOnThree Fund to support the other families affected by this tragedy. To donate, please go to MambaOnThree.org. Visit MambaSportsFoundation.org to advance Kobe and Gianna's legacy in youth sports. Thank you for raising us in your prayers and loving Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka, Capri and me. #Mamba #Mambacita #GirlsDad #DaddysGirls #Family ❤

A post by Vanessa Bryant (@vanessabryant) on

Although Friday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers will be the first for the Lakers since his death, Bryant was reminded on Sunday evening by the cast of the Grammy Awards at the Staples Center as fans gathered outside the arena in a spontaneous vigil ,

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said the February 9th Academy Awards would include a greeting to Bryant.

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