LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Lakers will seek a return to normalcy tonight when they meet the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center in their first game since retired legend Kobe Bryant died along with his 13-year- old daughter and seven others in a Calabasas helicopter crash.
The Lakers have been steadily progressing since the tragedy. They did light work on the team's practice court Tuesday before gathering for a luncheon and sharing stories about Bryant. On Wednesday, they started with drills and conducted a light football scrimmage. On Thursday, the Lakers (36-10) began preparing in earnest for the Portland Trail Blazers (21-27).
According to an Instagram post by Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, Bryant had planned to be at Friday night's game.
The Lakers and Clippers were scheduled to play Tuesday, but the Lakers asked that the NBA postpone the game.
The Lakers plan tributes to Bryant at Friday night's game. Details were not released in advance, but photos from inside Staples Center showed Bryant jerseys draped over every seat in the arena -- some with the number 8 and some with 24, the two numbers he work during his career.
Intent on creating their own identity, the Clippers usually cover the Lakers' banners and retired jersey numbers for their home games at Staples Center. But at the Clippers' game against Sacramento on Thursday -- the first NBA contest to be played in the arena since Bryant's death, the Clippers left Bryant's retired jerseys uncovered and on display high above the floor.
The rest of the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys were covered by the usual images of Clippers players and a city landscape but Bryant's 8 and 24 stood out on a black background. And a moment of silence was observed just past 7:33 p.m.
Fans have left an array of balloons, basketballs, jerseys, cards, stuffed animals and personal notes in his honor on 11th street and on Xbox Plaza at L.A. Live.
Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center, told reporters Thursday that all the items left outside the arena will be catalogued. He said items such as basketballs, letters, jerseys, toys and stuffed animals will be boxed up and given to Bryant's widow, Vanessa, and their three surviving daughters.
"We're going to take all the perishables, i.e., the flowers and the plants, and we're going to do something that they did (after) the tragic Manchester bombing where Ariana Grande was singing," Zeidman told ESPN. "Our plan is to get with a company and grind up all those flowers into mulch and spread it around L.A. Live and Staples Center in our planters, because we felt what they did was a tremendous tribute.
"This means that all that love and outpouring from all the fans who have brought things down here to donate will still be here around our campus when we're done," he said.
"Once we catalog all that and put it together and get it ready for them, we will assess where we are," he said. "We plan on putting signs out Monday morning that due to other contractually obligated events, please do not bring items down to L.A. Live and Staples Center. But we encourage you to make donations of whatever (amount) that you can to MambaSportsFoundation.org and MambaOnThree.org. We encourage you to do that instead of bringing additional items here."
In addition to Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, the other people killed in Sunday's helicopter crash were:
-- John Altobelli, 56, longtime coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team, along with his wife, Keri, 46, and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna on Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy basketball team;
-- Sarah Chester, 45, and her 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also played with Gianna and Alyssa;
-- Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant's assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team; and
-- Ara Zobayan, 50, the helicopter pilot.