LOS ANGELES -- Wearing a #24 Kobe Bryant jersey, a young fan stood outside Staples Center next to one of the signs where fans were given a chance to write messages to the late Kobe Bryant.
With a black sharpie in his hand and tears streaming down his face, he stood there.
He couldn’t have been more than eight years old.
Through his tears, he yelled back towards his mom, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write!”
In this heart wrenching moment, hours before tip-off of Friday night’s Lakers and Blazers game, it reminds us all how sometimes there are truly no words to describe what someone is going through.
This young Kobe fan couldn’t have been old enough to see very many of Kobe’s final games in the NBA. Yet, clearly, Bryant had a huge impact on him.
He wasn’t the only one who struggled to prepare for Friday.
The Lakers organization honored Kobe 30 minutes before tip-off and as the Blazers said, it was ‘phenomenal,’ and ‘great.’
But, it also meant Portland had to put its emotions behind them and go out and compete.
And that they did.
The Blazers beat the best team in the NBA, defeating the Lakers 127-119, behind another out of this world performance from Damian Lillard.
The entire day, though, felt out of this world.
Kobe’s tribute night will forever be a night that players, fans, coaches, and everyone in between will never forget.
It’s tough from an emotional standpoint, but he’s worthy, more than worthy. That type of love, that type of respect, and that type of honor that was given to him in the first game since it happened. It was only right. Compared to what his family has to deal with it, his closest friends have to do, us having to honor him in that way and then play a game is a small thing. -- Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard
Lillard’s running mate CJ McCollum added 19 points and six rebounds in the win.
Despite how difficult it was, McCollum knew that they had to still do their job.
They had to be dialed in, to truly honor Kobe.
“It was very tough, very tough to go out there and play after that ceremony, but you’ve got to do your job, and make sure you don’t do a disservice to Kobe and his family and we honor him by going and playing hard, and I think we did that,” McCollum said.
“No, there’s no way to prepare for this. You just enjoy the moment, take some time to reflect, and then try to go play,” McCollum said.
While, Lillard dubbed the tribute as Kobe being worthy of such an honor, McCollum said the ceremony was appropriate for a man that has done so much, and not just in the basketball community.
It was great, it was phenomenal, like LeBron says -- it was a celebration of a great person, a great man who has done a lot to change not only the basketball world, but the world in general. I thought it was appropriate for him and his family and all the ones that were lost -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum
Let's also discuss: “Kobe... to Shaq!!”
That is a phrase that people have imprinted in the brains, especially in Rip City.
But, for Hassan Whiteside, there was a day when he pretended that he was Shaquille O’Neal and his teammate was Kobe.
That was just one memory that ran through Whiteside's mind during Friday’s tribute.
“I was trying to hold back tears,” Whiteside said. “Just growing up with a Kobe poster, watching him play through all the years with Shaq. My teammate [was] Kobe, I [was] Shaq, just growing up.”
Whiteside continued, “It’s unreal. Some people you think is invincible, he’s definitely one of them. The world lost a superhero for sure.”
During Portland’s three game winning streak, Trevor Ariza has been a big contributor.
He spoke for the first time about Kobe since the fatal helicopter crash.
It was very tough, very, very hard. We spent a lot of time together. We talked a lot, even after we weren’t teammates. He was a like a brother to me, just like a big brother… I don’t know what else to say. – Trail Blazers veteran Trevor Ariza
As Ariza tried to hold back tears in the locker room, next to him stood Anfernee Simons.
Simons was looking at the night through a different lens.
It was definitely a sad day, but it’s also a day we celebrate his legacy and his life. You’ve just got to look at it that way, and just go out there and play for him, go out there and compete, play hard, that’s the only thing he would want. -- Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons said postgame
Those are some very wise words from the young man.
Emotions did, however, spill over into the game.
Or, at least there was some real frustration shown midway through the third quarter when Lillard was charged with a technical foul after arguing with the officials on what he believed should’ve been a foul called.
But, Blazers fans knew what that meant.
Lillard gets mad.
Lillard gets going.
The All-Star point guard scored 23 points and was 6-of-7 from three in the third quarter to bring his third quarter total to 42 points. He added three rebounds and three assists in the quarter.
There’s a simple way of describing Lillard’s third quarter performance – just ask Anfernee Simons:
“Going bananas. When he gets in that mode there’s not much you can do.”
Lillard went bananas, alright. He finished with 48 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds.
“He’s been killing. He’s locked in, he’s efficient. He’s playing at an elite level,” McCollum said.
Simons added, “He’s been playing unbelievable, just doing it all. He just goes out there and doing what he does. It’s been fun watching him play like that.”
Lillard with the Mamba Mentality is the most fitting way to end the Kobe Day.
But, just because the big night is over, obviously, it doesn’t mean LA and the rest of the world won’t continue to honor the late Kobe Bryant.
Like Whiteside said, there could really be an infinite number of tributes for the legend that wore both #8 and #24.
“They did a great job with the tribute, and they did the most they could in the time frame they could. We could do a lifelong tributes for Kobe,” Whiteside said.
As for that young Kobe fan, he will have a lifetime to think of his message to his idol, but right now there are still no words. Just memories.