JJ Watt Pays Tribute to Kobe Bryant While Hosting Saturday Night Live for First Time
Kobe Bryant was among nine victims killed in the Calabasas helicopter crash on Jan. 26
During the closing credits, NFL star and host JJ Watt was joined by many of the show’s cast members on stage as he wore a Los Angeles Lakers jersey featuring Bryant’s No. 24.
After thanking the audience, Watt, 30, folded up a piece of paper and threw it into the crowd to honor Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 at age 41.
Cast members Melissa Villaseñor and Chris Redd also paid tribute to Bryant on stage. Villaseñor wore a Lakers sweater, while Redd wore a T-shirt that featured an image of Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine victims killed in the Calabasas helicopter crash. They are survived by Bryant’s wife Vanessa and their three daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers paid an emotional tribute to Bryant during their first game at the Staples Center since the fatal helicopter crash.
The Staples Center was transformed into a sea of gold as each seat in the stadium was covered with either Bryant’s No. 8 or No. 24 jersey, which the thousands of fans donned to honor the fallen NBA star.
The tribute began with cheers of “MVP” from the crowd before Usher took center court to sing “Amazing Grace.” The musician stood in front of two floral displays featuring the numbers 8 and 24 in gold and purple roses.
After the moving rendition, the crowd broke into chants of “Kobe” and then “Gigi.”
The crowd then stood for a 24.2 second moment of silence for all nine victims in the helicopter: John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Payton and Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan in addition to Gianna and Bryant.
Gianna’s and Bryant’s jerseys were illuminated as the entire stadium was silent, finally breaking into cheers once the moment had passed. Once again, the crowd broke into cheers of “Kobe” before Boyz II Men sang the National Anthem.
“As I look around this arena, we’re all grieving,” he said tearfully. “Everybody that’s here, this is really truly a family… now, I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe… but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the blood, sweat and tears… the determination to be as great as he could be.”
James spoke about how much it meant to him to be able to “continue his legacy.”
“In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out,’ but in the words of us, ‘not forgotten,’ ” James concluded. “Live on brother.”
Ahead of the game, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told PEOPLE about the special family bond the team shares and how it has been exemplified in this tragic week.
“I think the first time we came together on Wednesday and put some shooting work in, then we spent time together upstairs with our lunch,” Vogel said. “Really each day that we’ve gotten together the bond has strengthened even more and that will continue to be the case.”