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The Grammys opened with a Kobe Bryant tribute from Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men

Celebrities in attendance and across social media remembered the NBA superstar.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The opening of the 2020 Grammy Awards paid tribute to basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday at age 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and at least seven other people, including the pilot.

Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center, where the 62nd Grammy Awards were held on Sunday night. The first performer of the night, Lizzo, kicked off the evening by declaring, “Tonight is for Kobe.”

Grammys host Alicia Keys followed Lizzo with a touching remembrance, noting in her opening monologue that “we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now. Because earlier today, Los Angeles, America, and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”

Boyz II Men then joined to Keys on stane for an a cappella version of their 1991 hit “Hard to Say Goodbye.”

Bryant was a basketball titan, his talent recognized worldwide. Up until last week, when his record was surpassed by LeBron James on January 23, he was the third-highest scorer in NBA history. He helped lead the Lakers to five national championships and enjoyed a thriving career after his retirement from basketball in 2016 as a businessman, author, and filmmaker. He won an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short film Dear Basketball: The Legend of Kobe Bryant, which he produced and wrote.

“He inspired a whole generation of young athletes,” fellow ex-Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted after the news of Bryant’s death broke.

Before the Grammys red carpet began on Sunday, fans had already begun arriving at the stadium to leave flowers and other tributes.

Attending celebrities shared their reflections on the loss, including rapper Rick Ross, who paid tribute to Bryant as “a true champion.”

Other celebrities chose to cancel their red-carpet appearances, while some who were not in attendance shared their reactions and remembrances across social media following the news, ahead of the Grammys ceremony.

(Few if any of the famous figures who paid tribute to Bryant online mentioned that he was accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a 19-year-old woman in Colorado. He denied the allegation, claiming the encounter had been consensual; the matter was ultimately settled out of court.)

Inside the Staples Center on Sunday night, there was only love — for Bryant and for the power of music. “I know that we’re going to do what we’re here to do,” Keys said. “We’re going to sing together, we’re going to laugh together. We’re going to dance together. We’re going to cry together ... we’re going to make sure that we are celebrating the most powerful energy, the most beautiful thing in the world, the one thing that has the power to bring all of us together. And that’s music.”

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