Team mates, wife pay tribute to Kobe
The Los Angeles Lakers took to the Staples Center court last night with heavy hearts in their first game since Kobe Bryant's death when they hosted the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team held a pregame ceremony in memory of the franchise icon, his daughter, and seven others who died in a helicopter crash last Sunday.
Basketball great and team leader LeBron James gave a powerful and heartfelt speech in which he
The crowd was asked to observe 24.2 seconds of silence in memory of the lives lost last Sunday.
A spotlight illuminated two basketball jerseys, which were covering two empty seats: one for Mamba number 2, Gianna's team, and the other Lakers number 24, for Kobe Bryant.
To open up the Lakers' pregame ceremonies Usher sang an emotional rendition of Amazing Grace, backed by floral wreaths in the shape of 8 and 24, the two numbers he played during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
The cameras cut to Lakers and NBA players crying, as the videoboard showed tributes and reactions to Kobe Bryant's death from around the league, and a sign reading "Rest In Peace Kobe and Gigi."
The American national anthem was sung by Boyz II Men.
James and current Lakers team members stood with their arms around each other and their eyes full of tears as they listened to the anthem.
James told the crowd that he had prepared a speech but decided to speak from his heart instead.
"Everybody that's here...this is really, truly a family. I know Kobe, Gianna, Vanessa and everybody thanks you guys from the bottom of their hearts."
"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."
"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."
Earlier, Vanessa Bryant took to Instagram again to pay tribute to the loss of her husband and daughter.
It comes as the charter company that owns the helicopter Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were travelling in when it crashed, killing all nine people on board, suspended all of their services after the accident.
The company, Island Express Helicopter, announced they had grounded all of their flights in a statement posted to their website.
"All services (regular and charter) were immediately suspended following the tragic accident on Sunday, January 26," they wrote.
"The shock of the accident affected all staff, and management decided that service would be suspended until such time as it was deemed appropriate for staff and customers," they added in the statement.
After the crash, the company said in another statement that they're working with the NTSB to investigate the cause of the crash, which killed their chief pilot.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot," the company wrote in the statement.
"We hope that you will respect their privacy at this extremely difficult time."
Bryant and Gianna were killed in the crash on Sunday near Calabasas, California when the chopper they were riding in smashed into the side of a mountain.
The New York Times reported that Island Express Helicopters, which owned the Sikorsky S-76B that crashed, was only certified to operate under visual flight rules, which mean pilots must be able to clearly see outside the aircraft in daylight.
Vanessa Bryant made her first public comment on Wednesday, thanking people for the global outpouring of support since the tragedy.
She also announced the formation of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash.
"Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them," Vanessa Bryant wrote. "We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe - the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna - a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately."
The Bryants would have celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary this April.
They had four daughters including Gianna, the 13-year-old who died in the crash.
"There aren't enough words to describe our pain right now," Vanessa Bryant wrote. "I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon."