As the flocks of tuxedos and floor-length gowns filtered into the routinely cordoned off VIP entrance in the STAPLES Center on Sunday evening, another crowd was amassing just outside the barriers, dressed largely in purple and gold. The crowd had gathered to pay their respects to Kobe Bryant, sports icon and career basketball player on the Los Angeles Lakers, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning.
There was no organized grieving, no scheduled congregation. It was as if the internal compasses of countless lost fans, broken in the wake of the news, had at once recalibrated to guide them to the STAPLES Center, often referred to as ‘The House that Kobe Built.’ Some brought bouquets or wreaths to celebrate Kobe, others just seemed drawn to the intimacy of shared grief.
On the other side of the gates, celebrities were sharing similar sentiments. A night that was already laden with loss, with the untimely death of Nipsey Hussle hanging heavy over the celebration, transformed into something of a farewell ceremony. The pre-telecast began with a moment of silence in Kobe’s honor, and his jersey remained illuminated in the stadium throughout the awards ceremony.
Twitter would suggest that these two crowds, the celebrities inside the barriers and the fans outside, are at opposition- #CancelTheGrammys was trending. Officials are discouraging people from congregating outside of the stadium to avoid disrupting the awards show- but photos and videos from the event paint a different picture. Mourners have been peaceful, if enthusiastic. What began as dozens of people milling about, largely speechless with grief, has evolved into hundreds of roaring, passionate fans. But their shouts and chants aren’t admonishing the Grammy’s- they’re honoring Bryant.
Inside the STAPLES Center on the red carpet, celebrities did not hesitate to table their own accomplishments in favor of discussing Kobe’s legacy, and the Recording Academy scrambled to coordinate a time for mourning and respect alongside the scheduled show. Alicia Keys opened the performance with a heartfelt memorial, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus saved a seat for Kobe, and almost every artist on stage gave a shout out to the legend.
Grief can be uniting in its ubiquity. It affects people indiscriminately, regardless of status. But beneath its inescapable burden, there’s another, more understated force present at the STAPLES Center- the promise of the future, of perpetual forward movement. Nipsey Hussle, taken before his time, was mourned at the show Sunday, but he was also celebrated. Not only is Racks In The Middle nominated for two awards (one of which it has already won), but his undeniable influence on the game is personified in Roddy Ricch. Who recently topped the charts with his hit The Box, and whose meteoric rise is due in part to Hussle’s guidance. Kobe’s last tweet, congratulating Lebron for passing him in career points, resonates in the same vein- “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother.”
Both Hussle and Bryant were immortalized that night. By the mourners inside and outside of the stadium, by the people they impacted, by the inescapable presence of their contributions, in their respective spheres and beyond. I could go on about their individual legacies, but sometimes the essence of one truly great icon can only be captured by the eloquence of another- “Heroes get remembered, legends never die.”