Thousands of celebrities, athletes, family members and fans poured into the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday to honor basketball great Kobe Bryant, who died last month in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
The public memorial — dubbed “A Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant” — is being held in the arena where Bryant wowed fans for nearly two decades while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 2/24 date for the memorial carries special significance as it coincides with Bryant’s jersey number — “24” — and Gianna’s “2” jersey number.
Fellow Laker legend Magic Johnson was among those attending the memorial, which is taking place just hours after the Lakers 114-112 win over the Boston Celtics at Staples Center on Sunday.
“It’s hard in a two-minute, five-minute time to say everything he meant to the world, to the NBA and to basketball fans. He’s bigger than life,” Johnson said ahead of the game on Sunday. “And it will take years to get over his passing and his daughter and the seven other people who lost their lives as well.”
Among other celebrities attending were filmmaker Spike Lee — who was close friends with Bryant and directed a documentary on his life — and rapper Snoop Dogg, an avid Lakers fan.
Many of the fans lucky enough to nab one of the much-sought after 20,000 tickets for the memorial wore the gold and purple colors of the Lakers as they headed for the two-and-a-half hour ceremony scheduled to start at 10 am (1800 GMT) amid tight security.
“Kobe meant everything for this city, for this team and for me,” said Karen Sanchez, 41, as she waited with friends to enter the arena. “I watched him play from the beginning.”
Marcos Rojas, 23, another ticketholder, said Bryant’s January 26 death near Los Angeles had been devastating to fans like him who worshipped the player.
“For me, it was like losing a friend,” said Rojas who wore a Lakers jersey with Kobe’s number.
“I always watched him playing with my friends,” he told AFP. “I always picked Kobe to play in my video games. I couldn’t leave home the day of his passing.”
Those attending the memorial were being given a 24-page program with pictures of Bryant and his family as well as a pin and black T-shirt featuring images of Kobe and his daughter on the back.
Some of the fans paid up to $224 a ticket.