Kobe Bryant

Lakers Open Doors, Help City Mourning Kobe Bryant Tragedy

Friday night was group therapy, more than it was a basketball game.

Shahan Ahmed

No, this can't be true. That's fake news. If this is a joke, it isn't funny.

When news of Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash spread, seemingly everyone had the same reaction: disbelief. It couldn't be true. There had to be a mistake. Not him.

It was unbelievable.

It was more unbelievable than him scoring 60 in his final game or him going on to win an Oscar after barely tipping his toes into life after basketball.

Bryant doing the unbelievable was almost expected, but this was something no one wanted to believe.

Southern California--and beyond--has been in a somber state of shock ever since the helicopter crash that killed nine, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

The initial shock gave way to rivers of tears because of the countless stories being shared publicly by those who knew him well, those who knew him in passing and those who were simply touched by his life, but the reality that Bryant's recognizable face would never reappear or his voice would never sound out another word still hasn’t fully set in.

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Friday night at Staples Center, the Lakers' first game since the tragedy, provided a major step forward in moving beyond the shock and initial grieving that has gripped the city and the team since Sunday.

Lakers, Fans Pay Touching Pre-Game Tribute to Kobe Bryant

Filling Staples Center with 18,997 and getting back to playing basketball was the first step back towards to normalcy, though Friday night was anything but normal.

From Usher singing “Amazing Grace” to a classy tribute video that had the crowd tearing up and sniffling, to every fan in attendance receiving no. 8 and no. 24 shirts, Friday night was anything but a typical night at Staples Center.

More than a few "Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!" chants broke out, along with “Gigi! Gigi! Gigi!” chants, but that is probably the new normal at Staples Center. Also the new normal, the Lakers added new markings on the home court honoring Bryant’s numbers and initials, along with black "KB" patches added to the team’s jerseys.

A teary-eyed LeBron James read the names of all the victims of the crash at center court, then threw away his notes to speak from the heart.

"As I look around this arena, we're all grieving. We're all hurt. We're all heartbroken," James said, calling the Lakers' community a family.

Before placing down the mic on the Lakers' logo in the same fashion Bryant did after his last game, James added, "Mamba out...not forgotten. Live on, brother."

After James promised to honor Bryant’s legacy and called the night a celebration, the team announced every Lakers’ starter as “6-6, 20th year out of Lower Merion High School, Kobe Bryant."

The crowd stood and applauded.

Above the chanting crowd, a purple spotlight lit up Bryant’s two jerseys, which were the only two retired Lakers’ jerseys visible high in the Staples Center rafters. When the basketball was finally put into play, the two teams honored those jersey numbers by starting the game with a 24-second violation, followed by an 8-second violation—a practice that has become a league-wide way to honor Bryant.

Friday night was group therapy, more than it was a basketball game.
But then, a basketball game was played. And the players, fans and team needed the Lakers back playing basketball again. The city needed that.

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