At the Staples Center, the first Los Angeles Lakers basketball game after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant mourn his passing and celebrates his life
Story and Photos By Ronin Taub
Los Angeles California (The Hollywood Times) 2/3/20 – I only think of myself as a casual Laker fan. You could always count on me not to watch a game. If the Lakers were in the playoffs, then maybe I’d check them out. During those games back in the day, I did the predicable things Laker fans do. I loved yelling, “Kobe!” like an idiot in a baritone that would impress Barry White.
Things changes recently when I began dating an amazing woman with season tickets right on the floor. She told me about a month back, “Hey, we’re going on the 31st.” She has been obsessed with the Lakers since Pat Riley was the coach, and her dad took her out on special father-daughter nights together. We’ve gone to a couple of games, and her seats are the best of the best. In the second row, right behind the courtside seats of the wealthiest and most powerful people in town. I’m always psyched to go.
However, today isn’t a Laker game I’m excited to go see. Nobody is. Kobe died last week. His daughter and seven other people also died in the helicopter crash. It is beyond horrible. Indeed, his death feels like a historical tragedy, affecting not just Los Angeles, but the whole world. We all live with the bitter taste of ashes.
Arriving at the Staples Center, we are treated so well, and we probably cut in line to get in. As one might imagine, 20,000 fans reflecting on death, rooted in the idea of the loss of Kobe, joined together in mourning. Not a good time. “My shirt came with tears”, the guy behind me blurts out. This micro-climate of emotion was palpable at the Staples Center. Concessions Cashiers were crying. Food runners were fist bumping fans. Security guards were pounding their hearts. VIP hosts hugged red carpet guests. A supernova of love triggered by loss explodes in an atmosphere of grief.
Inside, we’re all wearing yellow Kobe jerseys. On everyone’s seat at the game, a free jersey is given to use, either 24 or 8. His two uniform numbers during his incredible career with the team, they will be forever inextricably linked. In the stands, I behold a sea of 24’s and 8’s. Kobe was the dude, and Laker Nation is traumatized.
In this context, my ears become antennas. “The way he moved… beautiful to watch,” one girl says. “I didn’t realize how much he meant to me. Now that he’s gone, I feel so damn empty inside,” a father tells his son. Weeping, an older woman hugs her husband, asking “Why? Why? Why?”, over and over again. Yes, we are here to celebrate his life, but this also is the saddest funeral I’ve ever experienced.
Our attention transfixed on the jumbotron. Clips of Kobe play in an emotional pregame ceremony. It’s a revelation to a casual fan like myself, and I feel so privileged to be here. What I didn’t get until now is what Kobe did, he did so well; his artistry. The Black Mamba’s economy of movement is beautiful. He creates this unvarying repetition with the same series of motions performed game after game… for 20 years… under battlefield conditions. I fondly recall all these memories. I now remember them and make them part of my own life in his honor. I promise to never forget.
Before the game, LeBron James accepts the mantle of Laker Nation and gives a moving speech in honor of Kobe’s legacy. The man steps up and accepts a tough job with honor and class. I am proud to be here, but I wish none of us had to be here. I wish this was just another game. Everything memorable is bitter and hard tonight.
Ultimately, I believe Kobe’s greatest gift was his ability to be better. A better player. A better husband. A better father. Indeed, always evolving into a better human being. To honor the Black Mamba, the looming buildings in Downtown LA are lit up in purple and gold against the crisp night sky. Still, there is no question that the city I call home is in a bad state. Deep in our hearts, we all wonder, “What do we do now?” – We come together. We support each other. We do what he would do – we get better. We rise. Mamba out.