LOS ANGELES, CA (News4usonline) – Emotion won the tale of the tape Friday night at Staples Center when the Los Angeles Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers. The mood was somber all around the downtown arena as the Lakers hosted the Trail Blazers in their first game since the helicopter crash on Jan. 26 that claimed the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people.
The mood during pregame activities reflected a sense of disbelief, shock and unbearable sadness as singer Usher dropped a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Say the word Kobe and Southern Californians show their unabashed pride for the late Philadelphia native. For two decades, Lakers Nation was rocked and thrilled by the spectacular play of Bryant. So, in another form of homage tribute, the Lakers went through their pre-game introductions wearing either his No. 8 or No. 24 jerseys. They all became Kobe Bryant.
The final outcome of the game took a backseat on this night as the heartstrings of the Purple and Gold was more in sync with how to grasp a deeply-felt loss in the family. Portland, behind 48 points from guard Damian Lillard, handed the Lakers a 129-117 home loss. While professional obligation has its purposes,
“It was very emotional,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys were teared up going into the jump ball. You just felt it the whole night. You wanted to give maximum effort but we had a difficult week. In a situation like that, all you ask from your guys is that they put forth maximum effort and try to lock in as best you can mentally. They did that and they did it at a high level.”
For LeBron James, who surpassed Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list at No. 3, the night before the Lakers legend passed away, it has been a rough week. Bryant had sent out a tweet to congratulate James on the accomplishment. James said in a post-game press conference that having a solid support system behind him has helped a great deal.
“When you have a great support system, being able to deal with situations like this you would never want, with my
family, my friends and the rest of my support system, having them helps out a lot,” James said. “That’s the biggest thing I have in my life – that I have my family, my friends and my support system. That I know no matter what, I’m not dealing with this challenge alone. That helps out a lot.”
James and Anthony Davis, playing in his first season, are expected to pick up mantle where Bryant left off. So far, the duo have done a pretty good job of doing that, leading the Lakers to the best record (37-11) in the Western Conference. Putting up 37 points in the Lakers’ defeat, Davis recalled his favorite memory of Bryant. As he reflected, It wasn’t exactly one of endearment.
“I forgot to put my jersey on before the game and when they called me to go in the game, I went up to the table and
was about to take my warm-up t-shirt off and I looked down and I just had on a white t-shirt on underneath. I just
kind of creeped back to the bench and Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski was like ‘what are you doing?’ and I tried to whisper to him that I forgot my jersey and I had to go sit down. Kobe [Bryant] just got on me. I can’t say what he said, but it was along the lines of ‘why aren’t you going in the game, this is your chance.’ and I had to tell him that I didn’t have my jersey on. He said some more things after that that I can’t repeat, but now it’s a thing for my conscience that I always check to see if I have my jersey on.”
The Lakers aren’t the only ones taking the loss of Bryant hard. The NBA is a small fraternity, a brotherhood that is hurting all around. Lillard talked about what it was like for him taking the floor against the Lakers on a clear emotional night in the aftermath of the deadly accident.
“I tried my hardest to calm the emotional part down and just go out there and play,” Lillard said. “I think for both teams, it was a rough start to the game because it’s hard to go from being in that type of mental state and watching and listening and then jump into a game and really care. For me, I tried to keep my emotions in check and just play the game, have fun and go out there and compete and that was that.”
For Portland small forward Trevor Ariza, who played two seasons with Bryant (2007-2008; 2008-2009), was overcome with emotion like everyone else.
“Aww man. It was very tough. Very, very, very hard,” Ariza said. “We spent a lot of time together. We talked a lot, even after we weren’t teammates. He was like a brother to me. Just like a brother. I don’t know what else to say.”