Thousands gather for Bryant memorial

Kobe Bryant's celebration of life at Staples Centre. Photo: Getty Images
Kobe Bryant's celebration of life at Staples Centre. Photo: Getty Images
Thousands of Kobe Bryant fans gathered in Los Angeles to pay homage to the late NBA star and his daughter Gianna.

It came nearly a month after their deaths in a helicopter crash sent shockwaves through the world of sports and beyond.

Billed as a "Celebration of Life," the memorial at the Staples Center, Bryant's home arena during most of his storied 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, follows a series of remembrances, including a private family funeral earlier this month.

With many clad in Lakers purple and gold, fans who were able to obtain one of the event's highly sought-after tickets streamed into the arena for the chance to say goodbye, while others waited outside.

"I have been a Kobe fan for a long, long time. It is so sad, especially with the children. But it has really brought the city together," said Bubacar Drammeh, who stood outside the venue and planned to watch the memorial on TV.

Bryant (41) and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people killed in the accident while en route to a youth basketball tournament at which Kobe was planning to coach his daughter and her teammates.

Bryant's wife, Vanessa, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the operator of the helicopter, according to a report on Monday from the Los Angeles Times. The pilot was one of those killed in the crash.

Bryant, a transcendent star who joined the National Basketball Association at age 18 straight out of high school, was a five-time NBA champion and fourth-highest scorer in league history with 33,643 points.

The Lakers, where he spent his entire career, retired both of his jersey numbers - 8 and 24, which hang from the arena's rafters.

Tributes to Bryant have appeared across the city, with his numbers displayed on the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, city buses bearing "RIP Kobe" signs and purple and gold lights added to the pylons at LAX airport.

"Kobe was like a brother to all of us, he was family and this means a lot," said Henry Martinez (37) from Los Angeles. "Even though I didn't get in and the tickets are tight, I'm still going to come out here and show my respects to Kobe Bryant."

During the annual NBA All-Star weekend three weeks after his death, the league announced its All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honor would be permanently named for the late superstar.

Images on social media showed fans gathering hours before the memorial began, with the hashtag #KobeFarewell trending on Twitter in the United States, as fans, former teammates and fellow athletes struggle to make sense of the loss.

"A lot of tears, a lot of emotions, but I think a lot of happiness too just celebrating him and his accomplishments," said Desiree Arias (33) a native of Long Beach who was standing outside the Staples Center on Monday.

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