Basketballer Kobe Bryant remembered in poignant solo cello tribute

3 February 2020, 17:20

By Kyle Macdonald

After the death of the great athlete and his daughter, a moment of music united the basketball world in grief.

An emotional tribute rang out in the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Friday night. Their NBA match against the Portland Trail Blazers was the LA Lakers’ first game since the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

Bryant died in a helicopter crash in California on January 26, 2020, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. He had played 20 seasons with the team, between 1996 and 2016.

It was a moment of high emotion for the players and the 20,000 in attendance. The stadium lights were turned down and a single light shone on a lone musician, cellist Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Flanked by Bryant's iconic shirt-numbers, Hong played a sparse, solo arrangement of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

As the music continued, a video of Bryant speaking about his love of basketball, his family, and the story of his life played.

Read more: Watch Kobe Bryant & John Williams’ Oscar-winning basketball film >

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers
Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers. Picture: Getty

The Lakers left two empty seats for Kobe and Gianna Bryant. The tribute also included a 24.2-second moment of silence — 24 was Bryant’s number, 2 was Gigi’s youth basketball number.

Tiawan-born cellist Ben Hong is Associate Principal Cello of the LA Phil.

Off the court, Kobe Bryant was a music-lover. In 2017, he worked with legendary composer John Williams to create a short film about his love of basketball. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2018. Bryant was also a pianist, who had tweeted about his love of Beethoven.

On YouTube, people commented about the emotion of Friday’s cello tribute. “Who else is crying while watching this?”, asked Ness G, and John Zhang remarked, “that cello is such a beautiful instrument that brings out emotions and memories, I know Kobe can hear it too.”