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Clippers honor Kobe Bryant as basketball returns to Staples Center

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Clippers honor Kobe with No. 8, No. 24 warmup jerseys (0:24)

The Clippers honor Kobe Bryant by wearing No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys during warmups for their game vs. the Kings. (0:24)

LOS ANGELES -- The LA Clippers honored Kobe Bryant in a variety of moving ways Thursday night in the first basketball game played at Staples Center since the former Lakers great died.

But coach Doc Rivers and the team agreed there is one ultimate way to pay tribute to him.

"The best way if you want to honor Kobe, and we talked about this even on Sunday, is to go win," Rivers said before his team faced the Sacramento Kings. "Not just win tonight, but win it.

"So that's our journey. It was already our journey, and then this happens, and I think our guys understand if you really want to salute him, he made a lot of sacrifices to be a winner, Kobe did. ... And so for us to win, we're going to have to do the same thing, otherwise we will not win. So I think that's our journey now, as well."

In their first game at home since his passing, the Clippers came out flat and were routed 124-103 by Sacramento. They did not, however, use the emotional past few days after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, as an excuse.

The Clippers did admit it will take time for their grief to subside, if it ever does.

"Kobe is a legend, he's an icon, and we are going to feel this for months to come," Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell said. "There is no right way to get over what happened. Nine people were taken from this world too soon."

"As far as what happened to Kobe, we are never going to be able to get over that and definitely not going to be able to get over within a couple of days," he added. "As simple as that."

There were reminders everywhere of Bryant inside and outside the place he called home for nearly two decades. Outside Staples Center, at the center of LA Live, is an area where fans have been gathering since Sunday to huddle around numerous candlelit memorials and walls where they can leave messages honoring Bryant.

After the game, Rivers walked over and visited the area for nearly 10 minutes to see the tributes, which included sidewalks covered with personal chalk messages, Bryant artwork and even a band.

The night before, Sacramento coach Luke Walton, who played with the Lakers from 2003 to 2011, visited the tribute area when the Kings arrived to their hotel at 2 a.m. local time.

"It was ... it was emotional," said Walton, who also was coach of the Lakers from 2016 to 2019 and remained close with Bryant. "It wasn't a lot, [but] there was people at 2 in the morning. ... They were chanting. There was a group of people chanting, 'Ko-be' ... 2 in the morning. And you're looking around and, again, seeing how many people he touched, and the flowers and the candles and the messages and the handwritten notes, it was an emotional setting."

It only got more difficult for Walton walking inside the arena where he won two championships with Bryant. The marquee in the Staples Center hallway that leads to the locker rooms, which usually announces the teams that are playing that night, instead read, "REST IN PEACE KOBE AND GIGI," with purple and gold hearts.

During pregame warm-ups, the Clippers wore shooting shirts with a "KB24" logo on the front and either his No. 8 or No. 24 on the back. The Clippers coaching staff wore Kobe Nike shoes and purple ties.

And then came a powerful and moving video tribute the Clippers prepared for Bryant, Gianna and all those who were lost in the helicopter crash. It was narrated by Paul George, who idolized Bryant and said the Lakers legend was the reason he first picked up a basketball.

It seemed like everyone in the arena pulled out their phones and recorded the heart-wrenching, two-minute video, which was followed by a 24-second moment of silence to honor Bryant.

A spotlight shined on Bryant's retired No. 8 and No. 24 jersey banners the entire time and for the entire game. Typically during Clippers games, the team has the retired Lakers jerseys covered up high in the arena.

"Our city is suffering," George read at the start of the video. "Four days ago, in Calabasas, nine lives were lost, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of Los Angeles."

"We gather tonight, in the house that Kobe Bryant built, to honor him, and them," George continued. "Kobe was as synonymous with Southern California as the sunshine -- he touched every inch of it."

Bryant touched several Clippers.

Rivers was close to Bryant and battled against him in two NBA Finals as coach of the Boston Celtics.

Kawhi Leonard and George grew up in Southern California and were close to Bryant. Both attended Bryant's camp at his basketball facility before the season started, and Leonard shared the same helicopter pilot -- Ara Zobayan, who died in the accident.

Several Clippers players looked up to Bryant, and Lou Williams was a teammate of Bryant with the Lakers. The Clippers played Sunday at the Orlando Magic and won, just hours after Bryant's death. The Clippers admitted they don't know how they got through that game in Florida, as team members learned about Bryant's death as they were heading to the arena that day.

Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue played for the Lakers from 1998 to 2001 and remained close to Bryant. Rivers said he turned to Lue at one point Sunday during the game against Orlando and saw Lue in tears.

"He's struggling," Rivers said. "In the middle of the game, I turn to Ty to ask a question, and he couldn't -- he was crying and literally couldn't function because he had a very personal relationship with him as a player, as a teammate and then as a friend after that. So he's doing the best; they all are."

The Clippers were supposed to play the Lakers on Tuesday, but the NBA postponed the game until further notice to allow more time to grieve.

After the Clippers returned to Staples Center on Thursday night, the Lakers will take their first steps back inside the building on Friday.

"It's been tough all week, though Sunday was brutal, it really was," Rivers said. "... You know what I told my players is that's OK. I don't know how each person should handle this emotionally, like I'm not versed on what to do there. I do know each one should handle it in his own way, and I told our guys to feel free in whatever way. I think we're reflecting, we're trying to a lot more now, we're trying to celebrate his life now, as well, after we've gotten over the shock -- which I don't know if we have yet, so that's where I'm at."

"You know Kawhi and him had a very good relationship, very close relationship, spent a lot of time together this summer," Rivers later added. "And so this is not one of those things that goes away right away. And I don't know when it goes away."