Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel spoke on behalf of the team and said they’ve only become closer this week since the death of Kobe Bryant. USA TODAY
Hockey was being played Wednesday night, but Kobe Bryant’s memory was front and center in the first sporting event at Staples Center since the retired Los Angeles Lakers star’s death Sunday in a helicopter crash.
The Los Angeles Kings played a touching tribute to Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the other seven victims before their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It began with a haunting sound of a basketball being dribbled and a swish, as fans chanted, “Kobe, Kobe.”
“Kobe was our friend, our partner, your champion,” the announcer said. “He was a competitor. He was fierce. He was human. He was a hero to so many. Most importantly, he was a loving and devoted father.
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“Kobe Bryant won five NBA titles, the NBA’s most valuable player. He was an 18-time NBA All-Star and winner of two Olympic gold medals. Kobe’s greatness will always be defined in his achievements, but his legacy will be defined by the sheer volume of people he has inspired and will continue to inspire for generations to come.”
The Kings then held a 24-second moment of silence in which photos of all nine victims were shown on the screen.
The Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers had been scheduled to play Tuesday night at Staples Center, but the NBA postponed the game because the Lakers were “deeply grieving” the loss of Bryant.
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The Kings and the Lightning wore the No. 24 on the back of their helmets, and both hockey teams paid tribute to Bryant as they walked into the arena. The Lightning wore Bryant tribute T-shirts and the Kings wore replicas of Bryant’s NBA jersey.
“It was a little unorthodox for our dress code, but we walked in with Kobe jerseys and paid our respects in that regard,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar told NBC Sports Network before the game. “What he meant to us, he was a champion. He was the ultimate champion. … He was here to win games and to win championships, and that’s the ultimate goal in sports.”