Team leader Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers paid tribute to five-time champion Kobe Bryant, who perished alongside his young daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash, in the first game since their tragic deaths.
Inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, a purple light flashed on Bryant’s, 41, two Lakers jerseys –numbers eight and 24- as mourning fans chanted his name and yelled ‘MVP.’
20,000 stadium seats were filled with grieving fans wearing Bryant tribute shirts and a heartbroken Lebron James, 35, shared a touching speech on behalf of the Lakers team.
‘Now, I got something written down,' James began, 'but Lakers nation, I would be selling y’all short if I read off this s**t so I’m going to go from the heart.
'The first thing that comes to mind is all about family, and as I look around this arena, we’re all grieving…When you’re going through something like this the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders’ of your family.’
'I heard about the Lakers nation and how much of a family it is and that is absolutely what I’ve seen this week. Not only from the players, not only from the coaching staff, not only from the league, but from everybody.'
‘Everybody’s that here...this is really, truly a family. I know Kobe, Gianna, Vanessa and everybody thanks you guys from the bottom of their hearts.'
Member of the Los Angeles Lakers huddled together before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers as they prepared for a tear-jerking tribute for former player, Kobe Bryant
Lebron James (center) comforts a teammate as several Lakers players watch the organization and Staples Center honor Kobe Bryant, as well as 13-year-old Gianna 'GiGi' Bryant
Lebron James (pictured) gave a moving speech before the Lakers game against the Portland Trail Blazers, saying: 'Now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of 30 years of blood and sweat and tears…and countless hours. The termination to be as great as he could be.'
Lebron (right) and current members of the Lakers shed tears during Boyz II Men singing the National Anthem during the Kobe and Gianna Bryant tribute
During the tribute's opening, a purple spotlight shone on two banners of Bryant's jerseys he sported while he spent 20 seasons with the Lakers
'Now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of 30 years of blood and sweat and tears…and countless hours. The termination to be as great as he could be. Tonight we celebrate the man who came here at 18-years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years.'
Before we get to play…I love y’all man. Kobe is a brother to me and from the time I was in high school, watching him from afar, to when I joined this league and watched him up close. All the battle’s we’ve had throughout my career...the one thing we always shared was the determination to win and be great.'
'So in the words of Kobe Bryant, 'Mamba out', but in the words of us, not forgotten.'
Antony Davis (left) and Lebron James are credited with helping their teammates manage their emotions as they continue their basketball season on Friday
James (pictured): 'Before we get to play…I love y’all man. Kobe is a brother to me and from the time I was in high school, watching him from afar, to when I joined this league and watched him up close. All the battle’s we’ve had throughout my career...the one thing we always shared was the determination to win and be great'
Members of the Lakers team held each other in comfort under a purple tint as they mourned the loss of Bryant just five days before
Then, a 24.2 second silence was held for the Bryant family following a moment silence for the other seven victims.
In addition to the heart-wrenching tribute, two courtside seats will show Bryant's 24 jersey next Gianna's number two jersey. A rose bouquet rests atop for each.
James: 'So in the words of Kobe Bryant, 'Mamba out', but in the words of us, not forgotten'
Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas around 10am on January 26.
The nine victims include: John Altobelli, a baseball coach at Orange Coast College, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa; basketball coach Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; and the pilot Ara Zobayan
It's reported that the group was heading towards the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks from John Wayne Airport near his home in Newport Beach. They were scheduled to practice basketball.
The flight took off shortly after 9am and around 9.20am, Zobayan circled above Burbank Airport for 15 minutes.
He was relying on his eyesight alone to make out the terrain beneath him, choosing not to utilize what is known in flying as instrument flight rules (IFR), which would have allowed him to navigate through the clouds but which would have taken longer.
They're missed: Kobe and Gianna were among the nine people who died in a tragic helicopter crash Sunday near Calabasas
The Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, which Bryant often traveled in, caught fire after it struck a hillside amid heavy fog in the area.
It was later revealed by authorities that helicopters were grounded that day, as weather 'did not meet our standards.'
Audio revealed that air traffic control taken shortly before the crash told the pilot, Zobayan, was 'too low' for radar tracking.
There are conflicting reports that he was trying to land at Burbank and that he was just held there because of it being busy. After around 15 minutes circling above Burbank, he started flying west towards Thousand Oaks, following the highway, but without explanation, dipped south towards Calabasas.
What exactly caused him to crash remains unconfirmed but 'all the signs' point to the pilot not being able to see where he was going and not using altitude monitoring instruments, the source added, instead relying solely on his eyesight.
Also killed in the crash were John Altobelli (left), 56, longtime head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri (left, with John); and daughter, Alyssa (right), who played on the same basketball team as Bryant's daughter
Another young player, Payton Chester (left), was killed in the crash along with her mother Sarah Chester (right)
Christina Mauser (left, with her husband, Matt who was not on the chopper), a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school, also died in the crash. Pilot Ara Zobayan (right) was also killed
Rescuers retrieve a body from the scene of the helicopter crash in Calabasas which has stunned the world of basketball
The smoking wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on a California hillside on Sunday morning, killing all nine people on board including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
Superstar Usher began the tribute with an acappella rendition of Amazing Grace, as thousands of fans chanted Bryant and Gianna's name
Prior to the Lakers game against the the Portland Trail Blazers, fans left flowers, basketballs, balloons and other memorabilia outside of Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
A young child dressed in Lakers merchandise scores a basket outside of Staples Center as the organization prepared to honor Kobe Bryant
One fan wrote: 'Mamba Forever! I love you forever. Goat!' and called Gianna Bryant 'Mambacita forever!'
A fan pauses and attempts to hold back tears at a memorial to Kobe Bryant in front of Staples Center
Before James' homage to Bryant, superstar Usher began the ceremony with a somber rendition of Amazing Grace while Lakers colored flower bouquets were set behind him with Bryant’s numbers.
During Amazing Grace, the Staples Center Jumbotron played video clips of the Lakers team, fan memorials placed across the country and other professional athletes paying tribute the five-time NBA champion.
The names of all nine victims who perished in the helicopter crash were also listed, in additional honor to their grieving loved ones.
Usher sits alone inside Staples Center, where several thousand Kobe Bryant shirts have been given away free of charge, before he performed Amazing Grace for the tribute's opening
Fans grieve for Kobe Bryant at a makeshift memorial at LA Live across the street from Staples Center
A fan wears a Lakers shirt with photo of Bryant placed on the fabric, Lakers colored wrist bands and a hard hat outside Staples Center
As photos of Bryant’s time with the Lakers flashed on the screen, the crowd let out a chant for 13-year-old Gianna ‘Gigi’ Bryant who died alongside her father.
Cellist Ben Hong then appeared with a touching rendering of Hallelujah.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s voice echoed across the Staples Center as clips from previous interviews and specials played, highlighting his enviable drive, pure talent and undeniable love for the game.
‘Once upon a time, there was a young basketball player who had dreams of being one of the best basketball players in the NBA,’ Bryant can be seen saying in an interview.
A Lakers fan wears a mask to protect