All the major (and subtle) nods to Kobe Bryant during the Grammys show
LOS ANGELES – News of Kobe Bryant's death had Grammy attendees reeling on Sunday.
"Tonight is for Kobe," said Lizzo, kicking off her Grammys opening performance of "Cuz I Love You."
And when Grammys host Alicia Keys took the stage to introduce the show, she couldn't avoid talking about the loss.
"We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero," says Keys. "And we’re literally standing here, heartbroken, in the house that Kobe Bryant built. Right now Kobe and his daughter Gianna and all those who have been tragically lost today are in our spirits our hearts, our prayers. They’re in this building ...We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this."
All the performers who honored Kobe
At that, she and Boyz II Men took the stage for an a cappella duet of "It's So Hard to Say Goodye to Yesterday," as lights went up on Bryant's yellow Lakers jerseys.
Later in the show, Aerosmith took the stage for their performance. While running through their hits with an assist from Run DMC, they included a tribute to Bryant by holding up his white Lakers jersey.
A Bryant Lakers yellow No. 24 jersey was also included as part of Lil Nas X's Grammys set, during which he performed mashups of "Old Town Road" with Billy Ray Cyrus, Nas and BTS.
At the end of the show's Nipsey Hussle tribute, portraits of both Hussle and Bryant appeared on giant screens, which John Legend pointed to as he finished singing. DJ Khaled joined him, saying, "Rest in Peace, Nipsey Hussle. Rest in Peace, Kobe Bryant. Gianna. Long live Nip. Long live Kobe. The marathon continues."
"We’ve seen so much tragedy today and last year and so much has gone on," said Legend later in the show, while helping accept best rap/sung performance for "Higher," which he won with DJ Khaled and the late Hussle. "But let’s love each other, let’s love our families, let's hold each other tight."
Backstage, Tyler, the Creator reflected on the loss after winning best rap album.
“That news was heavy, especially just being in LA and being here in the Staples Center (tonight)," he said. "Within a short time, between him and (losing) Nipsey – If you’re from Los Angeles, and depending what sector you’re in, that (stuff) is really heavy. We took an L tonight. And Rest In Peace to Kobe."
Keys closed the show on an emotional note. "Peace and love. God bless Kobe’s family, we love you," she said.
Flags were at half-staff at Staples Center, where Bryant long played for the Lakers, as guests began trickling in. Bryant's face, along with the message "In loving memory,” covered digital billboards that wrapped the surrounding buildings at L.A. Live.
As of 3 p.m. PT, 1,000 fans had quietly gathered around a memorial at Staples, where memorabilia included a signed basketball, Bryant jerseys, hundreds of lit candles and red rose petals spelling ‘Kobe’ and ‘Gia,’ in honor of Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna who also died in the helicopter crash. A woman could be heard crying loudly near a barricade.
Fan Jerry Montero, 53, from LA, cried as he knelt in the front row of the memorial for almost 30 minutes. He finally stood and yelled, “We love you Kobe!”
“It’s not just Kobe,” he’s mourning, Montero said, “It’s everyone who was in that crash. It’s terrible. But what got me was the thought of Kobe being with his daughter on that helicopter, hugging her and telling her everything is going to be OK.”
Tears fell down his face. “And they are OK. They are in heaven."
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'He meant so much more than basketball'
Joshua Gonzalez, 24, held a heavy black framed photo of a Game 4 championship above his head. "It's heavy. But if Kobe can play with a broken finger, I can handle this," said the lifelong Lakers fan, before beginning a "MVP" chant. "He meant so much more than basketball to me. That Mamba mindset he had. I apply it to everything."
Gonzalez ended up placing his beloved picture in the memorial. "That was not my intention, but I saw all those flowers...So it stays," he said.
Fan Michael Aparicio, 27, wearing a purple Lakers jacket and a No. 24 T-shirt, pushed his five-month-old daughter in her stroller through the crowd. “We’re paying tributes to one of the greats,” he said, placing flowers at the impromptu Staples Center memorial. "It’s about showing respect. He gave his life to the Lakers. We wanted to be here.”
Kelan Parker, 21, from Southern California says when he heard the news from a cousin he checked Twitter, thinking Bryant's death was a hoax. He arrived at Staples to pay his respects. “He’s been a Laker his whole career so it just hurts SoCal, because it’s all we’ve known growing up for the past 20 years,” said Parker, adding that he thinks the Grammys needs to take time out of show to pay tribute to Bryant.
Victor Rodriguez, a 27-year-old youth counselor from LA, weaved through the crowd carrying a bouquet of purple and gold carnations, looking for a place to put them. "I want to pay my respects to my favorite player," he said. "He brought me so much joy. My mom was playing the TV and I heard the news. I was so shocked, I just started crying."
'We are in his house'
Before starting the non-televised pre-ceremony, interim Recording Academy interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr also acknowledged losing Bryant. "Since we are in his house, I ask you to join us for a moment of silence," he said.
A somber Ryan Seacrest opened E!'s Grammy's red carpet with a tribute to Bryant. "His loss will be felt even more deeply tonight at a place he considered home," Seacrest told the camera. "It's unthinkable. He was on the phone with me a few months ago, talking about the love of being a father, talking about his daughters so pridefully, and I think so many artists here tonight will be thinking about this, and wanting to share their stories."
On the red carpet, Rick Ross, who is nominated for rap song for "Gold Roses," said he hoped someone pays tribute to Bryant during the show.
“Just getting the news of Kobe Bryant, I want to see someone most definitely celebrate the legacy of Black Mamba tonight, because that’s what he would want to see," he told USA TODAY. "The true champion would want to see his legacy celebrated and it’s somebody’s responsibility to do that. We should recognize his greatness. (It’s) a great loss.”
India Arie spoke of Bryant on the red carpet with USA TODAY. “I have to acknowledge Kobe. Our fathers are friends. My father (Ralph Simpson) was a professional basketball player, too. I’m still trying to process. It feels so incredibly sad. I only met him a few times. My brother and him used to play together as babies.”
YBN Cordae, who’s nominated for best rap album and best rap song, said everyone is in mourning today.
“Everybody’s a fan of Kobe Bryant," said Cordae on the red carpet. "You shoot a paper ball in the trash can, we all say (‘Kobe’). The Mamba mentality — keep going, overwork, beat your best— is something that everybody should aspire to live by. Rest in peace.”
Accepting best music film on behalf of Beyonce, who won for her Netflix movie "Homecoming," producer Steve Pamon is the first to reference Bryant's death during the pre-show, which had hit like a shockwave just an hour prior. "Rest in peace, Kobe, we love you," he said onstage.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, contemporary instrumental album nominee, said the mood at the Grammys feels “a little bit different" after news of Bryant's death.
"The air is a little heavier," he said. "I bleed purple and gold. Obviously today is a sad day because we lost a legend and my favorite athlete of all time."
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News of his death permeated the pre-show, where attendees began filling the Microsoft Theater ahead of the live show.
“You can still see him in the back of your head crushing people on the court," said recording artist Cecil Parker.
Contributing: Bill Keveney