Last night the house that Kobe built started saying goodbye, the show must go on. The most emotional game in NBA history was a tribute to their favorite player. The first step towards healing. There were two moving video tributes, Boyz II Men, Usher, and cellist Ben Hong performed.
The entire Lakers' starting five were introduced one by one as "Kobe Bryant" while wearing either Bryant's No. 8 or No. 24 Lakers jersey before playing the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night. The night culminated with LeBron's speech, who publicly spoke for the first time since the tragedy. LeBron started with naming all the victims of the crash, and then went off-script.
"I got something written down; they asked me to kinda' stay on course or whatever the case may be. But Laker Nation, I'd bee selling you short if I read of this sh** so I'ma go straight from the heart."
The moment LeBron put the written speech down, his eyes started to tear up. LeBron's Instagram post lets us know how he feels - he has to continue Kobe's legacy with the Lakers. That's a big ask, even for LeBron. The fans chanting "MVP" and "Kobe" during the tributes and the game let LeBron know he is not alone in that mission.
"The first thing that came to mind, man, is all about family. As I look around this arena, we're all grieving. We're all hurt. We're all heartbroken. But when we're going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. And from Sunday morning all the way to this point -- and I've heard about Laker Nation before I got here last year, about how much of a family it is -- and that's absolutely what I've seen all week. Not only from the players, not only from the coaching staff, not only from the organization but from everybody. Everybody that's here, this is really, truly, truly a family. And I know Kobe, Gianna, Vanessa, and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their hearts as Kobe said."
Every seat in the building was blanketed with gold T-shirts with "Bryant No. 8" on the front and "Bryant No. 24" on the back; the same shirts Lakers players wore while warming up before the game. Only two seats were different. The floor seats where Gigi and Kobe sat the last time they visited Staples, the night we learned Kobe added Slovenian to his repertoire to trash talk Luka. There was a black Mamba Academy No. 2 uniform for Gigi and her father's gold No. 24 Lakers uniform draped on the seatbacks, with a bouquet of red roses on each seat.
"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 the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the everything. The countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight, we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38, and became probably the best dad we've seen over the past three years, man. Tonight is a celebration, man."
Both teams honored Kobe the best way they could - playing their hearts out. The Blazers won 127 -119 behind a monster performance by Damian Lillard. Portland's superstar went into Mamba mode and dropped 48 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 assists. This first game was just the begging of a long process of healing and honoring Kobe. LeBron summed it up best at the end of his speech.
"So in the words of Kobe Bryant, 'Mamba out.' But in the words of us, 'Not forgotten.' Live on, brother."