Lower Merion honors Kobe Bryant in first home game since tragic death

Lower Merion honors Kobe Bryant in first home game since tragic death

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ARDMORE, Pa. – Nine empty chairs sat at half court in the Bryant Gymnasium.

They were spread into groups. The first three represented John, Keri and Alyssa Antobelli. Next, a pair for Payton and Sarah Chester. Lone chairs represented Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. Another pair was left for Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

About two dozen former Lower Merion basketball players formed a circle around the chairs. They stood with a sellout crowd through a 33-second moment of silence and a roaring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before Lower Merion’s first home game since the tragic California helicopter crash.

Assistant coach Doug Young, who played with Bryant at Lower Merion, billed the school’s pregame tribute as Kobe’s return home — his signed white No. 33 Lower Merion jersey, with the help of Chinese memorabilia collector, was placed among the Lower Merion’s state championship banners during the event three years after it had been stolen from the school.

But the emotional weight of what the school and the community lost was inescapable.

At the start of Saturday’s game following the tribute, the crowd’s attention drifted from the squeaks of the hardwood to each other. Friends and family sat with their arms around one another, heads often bowed, eyes shedding tears or stuck staring into the mystery of loss.

Aside from those in Laker purple and gold, the crowd wore black shirts given away by the school. The front of the shirts featured the number 33 inside an ace with the words, “THE HEARTBEAT OF ACES NATION.” Below a silhouette of Bryant, the back read “WALK TOGETHER FOREVER. ACES BASKETBALL.”



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