Ben Simmons wore shoes inscribed with “Mamba Forever” and “RIP Gigi” as he helped the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-104 NBA win over Golden State Warriors.
It was among several touching tributes to Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in Philadelphia, the city where the NBA legend was born and grew up, following their tragic deaths in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Wearing Bryant’s famous No.24, superstar centre Joel Embiid scored 24 points on his return after missing nine matches through injury, yelling “Kobe” as he made his last basket with a Bryant trademark fadeaway jumper.
He had been granted permission from 76ers Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21.
Embiid was a teen in Africa when he first got hooked on basketball watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals, inspired by his style and swagger to give up volleyball for a new career path.
“That was the turning point in my life,” Embiid said. “It was watching Kobe. After watching, I just wanted to be like him.”
The Sixers skipped pre-game introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant’s last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving.
Bryant led Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school’s first since 1943.
His framed No.33 Aces jersey was displayed at mid-court and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence.
The Sixers also rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance for Bryant, Gianna and the other seven crash victims.
Simmons scored 17 points, having previously stepped up his output as he led the Sixers to a 6-3 record while Embiid was out injured.
In other matches, Charlotte beat New York 97-92, New Orleans defeated Cleveland 125-111, Toronto accounted for Atlanta 130-114, Memphis beat Denver 104-96, Boston won away at Miami 109-101 and Milwaukee thrashed Washington 151-131.