LOS ANGELES – LeBron James said he had a speech prepared and held a piece of paper in his hand as he took the microphone before the Lakers’ game against Portland.
But James wasn’t feeling what he wrote down, and threw the paper to the ground and said he wanted to speak from the heart about Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday with his daughter Gianna and seven others.
“When we’re going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family,” James said.
All week the NBA tried to move on. On Friday, after nearly a week of mourning, the Lakers took the court for the first time since Bryant’s death.
The league had postponed the Lakers’ game Tuesday against the Clippers following the crash.
In an emotional Friday night, the Lakers came out in warmups wearing No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in honor of Bryant, who won five titles over 20 seasons for the franchise along with an MVP award.
The Lakers put Bryant shirts on every seat in the arena and their pregame music was spliced with Bryant’s voice or people talking about Bryant.
R&B singer Usher came out to sing “Amazing Grace” flanked by an “8” and “24” made of flowers as video of tributes to Bryant from around the NBA and NHL played above him. Then cellist Ben Hong performed a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as clips of Bryant interviews and highlights appeared on the video board.
Following that was a 24.2-second moment of silence, 24 for Bryant and 2 for Gianna Bryant, to honor those lost in the helicopter crash.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he knew Friday was going to be a “heavy-hearted” night.
“Our job is to come in and manage our emotions, honor Kobe the right way, Gianna the right way, the victims the right way with the tributes but also when we step on the court and honor them with our play,” Vogel said before the game, in which Damian Lillard scored 48 points and the Trail Blazers won 127-119.
The Lakers haven’t made any players, including James, available to the media since Sunday, but Vogel mentioned that James has been an essential leader in a difficult time.
“He’s been really a tower of strength for all of us,” Vogel said. “He’s meant a great deal during this difficult time for us, both by example and just being a vocal leader and we’re following his lead. He’s been terrific this week.”
Outside Staples Center, fans continued to pay their respects. Typically, the area known as L.A. Live outside the arena is filled with music and people buzzing about at bars and restaurants on gamedays. But there was no music, just people, several in Bryant jerseys, paying their respects. People left flowers, candles and basketballs with messages for Bryant. The sidewalks were filled with messages people wrote in tribute to Bryant and fans were still writing tributes on large white boards outside the arena.
Friday, the Lakers got to formally pay their respects to one of their legends.
“You wake up in the morning and you say I can’t believe this has happened …” Vogel said. “It’s that type of thing. There is a reality element to it, but there is still an element of shock for sure.”