NBA legend Magic Johnson, singer Jennifer Hudson and rapper Common teamed up Sunday night for an emotional tribute to the late L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, ahead of the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.
The United Center erupted with cheers of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” almost immediately after Johnson invoked his name in a speech, with NBA stars standing behind him.
“We’ll never see another basketball player quite like Kobe,” said Johnson, himself a longtime Laker point guard and former president of basketball operations for the team. He noted the 41-year-old Bryant’s charity work and devotion to his children, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Kobe, Gianna and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains on Jan. 26.
“We all are hurting. This is a tough time for the whole NBA family,” Johnson added. He encouraged people inside the arena to hold hands in a moment of silence.
Then, with images of Kobe Bryant displayed behind her, Hudson delivered a stirring performance of “For All We Know,” including part of the Lord’s Prayer in the lyrics. Some of the photos showed Kobe and Gianna Bryant together, smiling.
After a pre-produced video played for the fans, the rapper Common performed his own tribute. Both Common and Hudson were in their hometown, Chicago.
The first Kobe Bryant MVP Award is set to be handed out later Sunday night, given to the player voted as the biggest star of the All-Star Game — a trophy that Bryant earned four times.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo served as team captains. Players on James’ team wore Gianna’s No. 2 on their jerseys, while Antetokounmpo’s team wore Kobe’s No. 24. Each player also wore a patch with nine stars, one for each victim of the crash.
Stars also paid tribute to NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern, who died Jan. 1 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
“Just as a reminder: Who more embodies the spirit of All-Star than Kobe? … He always played hard. He didn’t care if it was an All-Star game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Legends Brunch ahead of the game. “And, I think that’s what he and David had in common. They always competed. They believed in the power of sports. They believed in winning and they believed it was necessary to always give their all, and I think that’s why their losses have resonated with so many people around the world.”
Weeks after the crash, investigators were still looking into what caused the aircraft to slam into the fog-covered hillside near Calabasas, catching fire. In addition to the Bryants, the crash killed Payton Chester, 13; John Altobelli, 56; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; Christina Mauser, 38; Sarah Chester, 45; and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.