LOS ANGELES — Magic Johnson said what many Lakers fans presumably might be thinking nearly a month after Kobe Bryant’s death.
It will be difficult to sum up the former Lakers star’s impact as the team prepares a memorial for Bryant and his daughter Gianna on Monday at Staples Center.
“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 before the Lakers’ 114-112 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday at Staples Center. “And it will take years to get over his passing and his daughter and the seven other people who lost their lives as well.”.
Johnson spoke as part of a panel that featured various Lakers and Celtics luminaries. Then, the Lakers’ controlling owner (Jeanie Buss), Celtics owner (Wyc Grousbeck), former Lakers players (Johnson, Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis) and former Celtics players (Cedric Maxwell, Brian Scalabrine) shared stories about NBA’s biggest rivalry that had spanned a combined 33 league championships and 12 face-to-face Finals matchups.
Inevitably, though, the topic steered back to Bryant and his death in a helicopter crash.
Johnson praised Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell for wearing Bryant’s No. 24 jersey and a hat that showed the initials “KB” inside of a gold heart. Though Russell played for the Lakers’ most hated opponent, Bryant often touted Russell as one of his most supportive mentors. Johnson also expressed gratitude that Lakers fans placed various Bryant memorabilia at sites outside Staples Center, Mamba Sports Academy and the Lakers’ practice facility.
“Jeanie and the Lakers as well as AEG have done a wonderful job working with the fans who were leaving flowers and everything they left,” Johnson said. “Everybody has really come together in trying to make sure that we’re going to say goodbye, say goodbye in their own way.”.
The Lakers have struggled saying goodbye.
Five days following Kobe and Gianna’s death, the Lakers held an elaborate pregame tribute against Portland at Staples Center to honor the Bryant family and the seven other victims. Johnson spoke about Bryant at NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago. And the memorial on Monday is expected to last three hours.
“It’s been a celebration ever since we got the horrific news about his life and what he means to the game. But I don’t want to keep going back on it,” James said Sunday. “I think it’s unfair and unjust to his family as they’re trying to move on and we’re all trying to move on, but also know that he’s with us. His jersey is sitting in my locker right now. But it just puts me in a difficult mind state if I continue to harp on it, if you can respect that.”.
That partly explains why the Lakers have not divulged details about Monday’s memorial.
Though Staples Center will likely draw a sellout crowd of 20,000, the Lakers have mostly limited tickets to close family members, friends and other Lakers/NBA representatives. The Lakers have not revealed who plans to attend or speak, but Kobe Bryant’s surviving wife Vanessa and three daughters Natalia, 17; Bianka, 3; and newborn Capri are expected to be there. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cooper, both of whom played for the Showtime Lakers, are also confirmed to attend. Bryant, who played high school basketball at Lower Merion outside Philadelphia from 1992-96, will also have his former high school coach Gregg Downer, teammate Doug Young and English teacher Jeanne Mastriano in attendance.
The current Lakers also won’t have practice in case coaches and players plan to go, though Avery Bradley plans to skip because of the heavy emotions involved.
“Tomorrow is going to be tough again, but we have to make sure we stay in the moment,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “When it’s time to grieve, we grieve. When it’s time to line up between the lines, we do what he’d want us to do.”.
It appears likely that Bryant’s memorial will feature some tributes, though it remains unclear who will deliver them.
On Sunday, Johnson delivered his own tribute by gushing about Bryant’s five NBA titles, career-high 81 point game and 60-point performance in his final game. Johnson also praised Bryant’s efforts through his foundation to reduce homelessness as well as his ongoing support for the WNBA and women’s college basketball.
“Kobe was living his best life after basketball,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be hard for the city to move on.”.
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