The opening of the 2020 Grammy Awards paid tribute to basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday at age 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and at least seven other people, including the pilot.
Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center, where the 62nd Grammy Awards were held on Sunday night. The first performer of the night, Lizzo, kicked off the evening by declaring, “Tonight is for Kobe.”
Grammys host Alicia Keys followed Lizzo with a touching remembrance, noting in her opening monologue that “we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now. Because earlier today, Los Angeles, America, and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
Boyz II Men then joined to Keys on stane for an a cappella version of their 1991 hit “Hard to Say Goodbye.”
Bryant was a basketball titan, his talent recognized worldwide. Up until last week, when his record was surpassed by LeBron James on January 23, he was the third-highest scorer in NBA history. He helped lead the Lakers to five national championships and enjoyed a thriving career after his retirement from basketball in 2016 as a businessman, author, and filmmaker. He won an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short film Dear Basketball: The Legend of Kobe Bryant, which he produced and wrote.
“He inspired a whole generation of young athletes,” fellow ex-Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted after the news of Bryant’s death broke.
Before the Grammys red carpet began on Sunday, fans had already begun arriving at the stadium to leave flowers and other tributes.
Flowers being set up at LA Live for Kobe Bryant— Jack Harris (@Jack_A_Harris) January 26, 2020
The Grammys are at Staples Center tonight, so plaza in front is blocked off. Dozens already beginning to gather here pic.twitter.com/6gHUVwGphB
Attending celebrities shared their reflections on the loss, including rapper Rick Ross, who paid tribute to Bryant as “a true champion.”
Other celebrities chose to cancel their red-carpet appearances, while some who were not in attendance shared their reactions and remembrances across social media following the news, ahead of the Grammys ceremony.
Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete. pic.twitter.com/9EZuwk8wrV— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 26, 2020
My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone. It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players. pic.twitter.com/NXsrXmCkkG— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 26, 2020
Sometimes when I'm really lacking in courage because of anxiety or whatever, I will put on this video.— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) January 26, 2020
It's the last three minutes of Kobe's last game, the greatest retirement game by any athlete ever.
Everyone should watch it.https://t.co/Id2TLQLVX0
#KobeBryant you were the greatest. You made our city and the rest of the world so proud. Every basketball fan knew the magnificence of the Mamba. Love and healing to Vanessa and those little girls. God, this is just the worst ever.— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) January 26, 2020
Devastated and heartbroken by the passing of Kobe Bryant. I admired his athletic prowess from afar and his humanity close up. He was an original. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans. RIP.— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) January 26, 2020
Years ago Kobe was suspended for calling a ref a fucking fag in a heated moment. He didn’t give a weak apology and yell “triggered!” He learned from it. Actually put in work. Worked with GLAAD. Called out his own fan for calling someone gay in his mentions. People can grow.— Slade (@Slade) January 26, 2020
Gutted to hear about Kobe’s helicopter crash. Just terrible. I’m not a sports fan, but I do know that Kobe was incredibly nice to me, and was like a kid in a candy store at the Oscars when his film won. Love to his family. RIP. pic.twitter.com/i9c4QHXKls— Lee Unkrich (@leeunkrich) January 26, 2020
(Few if any of the famous figures who paid tribute to Bryant online mentioned that he was accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a 19-year-old woman in Colorado. He denied the allegation, claiming the encounter had been consensual; the matter was ultimately settled out of court.)
Inside the Staples Center on Sunday night, there was only love — for Bryant and for the power of music. “I know that we’re going to do what we’re here to do,” Keys said. “We’re going to sing together, we’re going to laugh together. We’re going to dance together. We’re going to cry together ... we’re going to make sure that we are celebrating the most powerful energy, the most beautiful thing in the world, the one thing that has the power to bring all of us together. And that’s music.”