It was a somber evening for the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA fans Friday night as the team returned to the court for their first game following the helicopter crash that killed former Laker star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Two seats were left vacant courtside and adorned with bouquets of red roses and two jerseys: a No. 2 black Mamba jersey for Gianna and a No. 24 Laker jersey for Kobe.
Vanessa Bryant shared a photo of the tribute to her husband and daughter, spotlighting the two jerseys laid out in their honor on Instagram.
"There is no #24 without #2,” she captioned the photo. “❤️#GirlDaddy #DaddysGirl #MyBabies ❤️❤️ #OurAngels #KobeandGigi”
Bryant and her three other daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months, were not present for the special pregame ceremony.
The 37-year-old broke her silence for the first time since the tragic crash on Wednesday to thank fans for their thoughts and prayers.
"There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now," she wrote in the caption of her post. "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.”
She added, "I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way."
The rest of Friday's ceremony paid homage to the NBA legend, his family and the families of the other victims who were devastated by the crash. Usher performed an emotional rendition of “Amazing Grace” before the game and the names of the nine victims were displayed on television screens inside the Staples Center.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James took a few moments to address the crowd before the game began, going off-script to talk about his longtime colleague and friend, and his daughter Gianna, and remembering the seven other victims.
“The first thing that comes to mind, man, is all about family,” he said. “And as I look around this arena, we’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken. But when we’re going through things, like the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. Everybody that’s here, this is really, truly, truly a family."