People walk past a mural before the public memorial for NBA great Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others killed in a helicopter crash, at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 24, 2020. (Reuters)
LOS ANGELES – Thousands of Kobe Bryant fans gathered in Los Angeles on Monday to pay homage to the late NBA star and his daughter Gianna, nearly a month after their deaths in a helicopter crash sent shockwaves through the world of sports and beyond.
Billed as a “Celebration of Life,” the memorial at the Staples Centre, Bryant’s home arena during most of his storied 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, follows a series of remembrances, including a private family funeral earlier this month.
With many clad in Lakers purple and gold, fans who were able to obtain one of the event’s highly sought-after tickets streamed into the arena for the chance to say goodbye, while others waited outside.
“I have been a Kobe fan for a long, long time. It is so sad, especially with the children. But it has really brought the city together,” said Bubacar Drammeh, who stood outside the venue and planned to watch the memorial on TV.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed in the accident while en route to a youth basketball tournament at which Kobe was planning to coach his daughter and her teammates.
Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the operator of the helicopter, according to a report on Monday from the Los Angeles Times. The pilot was one of those killed in the crash.
Bryant, a transcendent star who joined the National Basketball Association at age 18 straight out of high school, was a five-time NBA champion and fourth-highest scorer in league history with 33 643 points.
The Lakers, where he spent his entire career, retired both of his jersey numbers - 8 and 24, which hang from the arena’s rafters.
Tributes to Bryant have appeared across the city, with his numbers displayed on the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, city buses bearing “RIP Kobe” signs and purple and gold lights added to the pylons at LAX airport.
“Kobe was like a brother to all of us, he was family and this means a lot,” said Henry Martinez, 37, from Los Angeles. “Even though I didn’t get in and the tickets are tight, I’m still going to come out here and show my respects to Kobe Bryant.”
During the annual NBA All-Star weekend three weeks after his death, the league announced its All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honour would be permanently named for the late superstar. (Reuters)