LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The crowd outside of Staples Center continued to grow Friday evening ahead of the Lakers’ first game since the death of Kobe Bryant.
Fans had flocked to the arena all week to pay their respects to the basketball legend following the tragic helicopter crash Sunday that killed nine people including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Expressions of love, grief, and sympathy filled the area in the form of flowers, balloons, candles, jersey, and even tattoos.
“There’s something peaceful about being here with everybody,” said Lakers fan Ari Ross. “I think the whole world will be tuned in to see the Lakers and the family kind of push through.”
The fans may not know each other but are connected by the loss of Bryant and Gianna.
“My connection is teaching my son about basketball and look at how he was with his daughter…and it just reminds me of how Ash looks at me,” said Lakers fan Trenton Doss.
Lakers fan TJ Oleas said what he admired most about Kobe was, “his plays in basketball and what he did for the community.”
“I really to look at his work ethic a lot and put that into what I do,” said fan Saarini Madhava
Rick Castellon, the owner of RicRoks Tattoos, has had a busy week, helping customers permanently honor Bryant, who inspired them in their lives.
“Kobe was straight-on and that’s what you want to deliver, a straight-on tattoo,” said Castellon.
Castellon said they have been busy every day since the tragedy, inking Kobe’s face, jersey numbers, and “Mamba Mentality.”
“We get involved that much more, with your customer, with the city that you love,” he said. “You create that journey for that customer, and it’s always that connection between Kobe, the customer, and the shop.”
Fan Shane Beck said he flew out from West Virginia to attend Friday’s game.
“Just growing up in West Virginia, we didn’t have a professional team to watch, so I just grew up watching Kobe,” Beck said.
Beck paid over $1,000 for a nosebleed seat.
“I think it was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s a way to pay my respects and see how the Lakers honor him and be around some people who are feeling the same emotions I am,” Beck said.
The face-off between the Lakers and the Blazers was scheduled for 7 p.m. with a tribute planned before tip-off.