The Los Angeles Lakers returned to the STAPLES Center on Friday night, participating in a game for the first time since Kobe Bryant died in a tragic helicopter crash. The team wanted to properly pay tribute to the late NBA icon, and they did so by getting the fans involved. The Lakers gave away an insane amount of Bryant shirts ahead of their tribute night.
According to TMZ, the team gave away 20,000 shirts on Friday night, one for every fan in attendance. The arena staff draped a shirt over every seat prior to the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, half of which bore No. 8 and Bryant's name. The other half featured No. 24.
To further the tribute, the team set aside two seats just for Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Both were often seen sitting courtside during Lakers games. One chair was draped with Bryant's jersey while the other featured Gianna's from the Mamba Academy. The seats each featured a set of roses.
The stadium and the jerseys saw changes during this game as Bryant's numbers were added to the court design while his initials were put on the baseline. The team jerseys bore a KB patch.
Prior to the game, the Lakers entered the arena wearing Kobe sneakers, as well as his jerseys. The entire team, including the coaching staff, wore the outfits during warmups and into player introductions. The Lakers and Trail Blazers also each started the game with 24.2-second shot clock violations in order to honor both Bryant and Gianna.
"It's all about family," LeBron James said during a pregame speech to the crowd. "Best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. This is really truly, truly, a family ... I look at this as a celebration tonight. Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 and retired at 38.
"Kobe is a brother to me. All the battles we had in my career, the one thing we shared is the determination we had to want to win ... I want to continue his legacy, not only this year but for how long we play the game of basketball because that's what we love."
This was the first game for the Lakers since Bryant's death, but it was the Trail Blazers' third. The Oregon-based franchise ultimately won 127-119, which was partially attributed to the emotional weight affecting the Lakers.
(Photo Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)