LOS ANGELES -- What started as a logistical challenge ended up being worth the trouble for thousands of Kobe Bryant fans who were lucky enough to view his celebration of life ceremony in person.
There was a little haze in the air as camera crews from all over the world set up shop across the street from the main box office of Staples Center, where Bryant spent the majority of his 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Fans without tickets were urged not to approach the venue unless they were in possession of a ticket, which made the atmosphere much more somber and at times, even quiet. Gone were the candles and flowers that had filled the XBox Plaza just a few weeks ago.
Clad completely in purple, gold and black, early-arriving fans were lined up outside the area by 8 a.m. PT. There was no pushing or shoving, just a slow, steady stream of people who wanted to celebrate the life of the five-time NBA champion and his daughter, both of whom perished in a helicopter crash with seven others nearly a month ago.
There was a clear separation of media from the fans down Chick Hearn Plaza Drive and neither were allowed to interact with the other. A moat-like set of barricades kept the two sides apart, yet fans took pictures of the hundreds of cameras and likewise, the media filmed the arriving crowd.
Around 8:30 a.m., doors to the arena opened and the streets once again were sparsely populated. While there was a consistent influx of people, there were far fewer than what you’d see for a basketball or hockey game.
Then at 9:40, it was like the floodgates had opened. Huge crowds of attendees streamed in, apparently stuck in security lines that had wrapped around the block and down Olympic Blvd. Without the possibility of getting the majority of fans into their seats in 15 minutes, the start of the ceremony was pushed back nearly half an hour.
Jimmy Kimmel served as emcee and barely could hold back his tears as he shared memories of the 17-time NBA All-Star. The crowd was a "who’s who" of basketball’s past and present. Warriors star Steph Curry was in attendance, along with several Lakers and NBA alum like Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade.
Performances by Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera provided uplifting moments between the emotionally powerful speakers that included WNBA player Diana Taurasi, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, and NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
Maybe the most surprising speaker was Bryant’s wife Vanessa, who shared personal memories of both her daughter and husband. She showed incredible poise and strength while in front of the crowd, thanking them for their love, prayers and support since the tragic accident.