The Los Angeles Lakers will try to resume focusing on basketball Friday night as they continue to mourn the loss of NBA icon Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers will play host to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
Bryant, who spent his 20-year career with the Lakers and helped them win five NBA titles, died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his daughter Gianna, and seven other people. They were on their way to an AAU basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
The NBA postponed the Lakers’ scheduled game Tuesday against the cross-town rival Clippers to allow the team time to grieve. The Lakers came together for a luncheon instead, where they toasted Bryant and shared memories of the player known as Mamba.
While they practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, only coach Frank Vogel was available to the media.
So Friday night is expected to be an emotional and poignant evening.
How to watch
The game will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET. Streaming on WatchESPN.
What to expect
The unexpected. There will be tributes to Bryant before, during and perhaps after the game, although the NBA and the Lakers have not shared their plans with the public. He has two jerseys retired and hanging from the rafters — his No. 8 and No. 24.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be sporting new tattoos honoring Bryant, which they introduced on their Instagram stories on Thursday. James’ tattoo appeared to be a snake — a tribute to the Black Mamba — with a No. 24.
Lakers guard Quinn Cook told USA TODAY Sports he would switch from No. 2 to No. 28. Bryant’s daughter Gianna wore No. 2.
The Blazers could show up in Bryant warm-ups or replica jerseys and some players may choose to wear Bryant’s No. 8 or No. 24. One of Bryant’s close friends, Carmelo Anthony, plays for the Blazers and probably will do something special.
A video montage, a moment of silence, patches on jerseys and fan signs are just a few of the types of tributes you can expect to see.
Who to look for
The game will attract fans of all ages — those that saw Bryant play during his 20-year career, those that grew up watching LeBron James — the Lakers’ current superstar, and those attending for the first time to pay their respects.
The Lakers always have attracted high-wattage celebrities — games are a place to see and be seen. Expect longtime Lakers fan and Hollywood royalty Jack Nicholson to be in his usual courtside seat. Other notable names could include: Denzel Washington, Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, Dyan Cannon, Ice Cube, Will Ferrell, any of the Kardashian clan, Jay-Z and Beyonce, David Beckham. You get the picture.
Former teammates and other NBA luminaries also are expected. Magic Johnson is a given. So is Shaquille O’Neal. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis (senior Lakers basketball advisor and former player), Derek Fisher, Metta World Peace, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver are among those who could attend.
And what about Michael Jordan? The player whom Bryant has said he looked up to growing up and wanted to emulate and competed against owns the Charlotte Hornets, who are not playing Friday.
And what of former coach Phil Jackson? He was at the helm for all five of the Lakers’ titles won while Bryant was playing. He also had a long-time relationship with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss; the two got engaged in 2013, but called it off in 2016.
What about Bryant’s family?
Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her three daughters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri, are not expected to attend.
What it means
In the NBA record books, not much. It’s another regular-season game. The Lakers (35-10) are atop the Western Conference and a favorite to make the NBA Finals. The Blazers (21-27) aren’t in the playoff conversation in an already crowded race.
In the big picture, the Lakers and their fans can take a small but important step forward. For the first time, without their beloved Bryant.
Follow Heather Tucker on Twitter @HeatherR_Tucker.