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Kobe Bryant Memorial: Fans Flock To Staples Center To Honor A Legend

A makeshift memorial is shown near Staples Center in remembrance of former NBA great Kobe Bryant who, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died January 26 in a helicopter crash, on January 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Kobe and "Gigi" were among nine people killed in the crash in Calabasas, California as they were flying to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was going to coach her in a tournament game. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Luisa Almeida didn’t wear eyeliner Monday because she knew it would get ruined once the Kobe Bryant memorial got underway at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Wearing an RIP Kobe scarf and a Lakers jersey she bought in 2001, when she first became a fan, Almeida said she never made it to Los Angeles while Bryant was alive, but she made the trip from Dallas to bid him farewell. The 41-year-old basketball star died when a helicopter carrying him, his daughter and seven others crashed in Calabasas last month.

“It’s like a dream come true to be in Los Angeles,” she said. “Unfortunately, (I’m) here to pay my tributes and my respects to one of my greatest, greatest, greatest role models, Kobe.”

WATCH: Kobe Bryant Memorial

Kobe Bryant's Celebration of Life at Staples Center in L.A.

LIVE: Friends, family and fans are celebrating the lives of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Posted by KSL 5 TV on Monday, February 24, 2020

Almeida was one of thousands of fans gathering outside the Staples Center hours before fans packed the 20,000-seat arena, which hosted the rival Boston Celtics the night before. On Monday morning, South Figueroa Street outside the stadium looked much as it had the night before, with almost every fan wearing a Bryant jersey or some purple-and-gold memorabilia.

Shortly after 8 a.m. (11 a.m. ET), fans with tickets to the memorial began filing into the Staples Center where, organizers say, about 35,000 roses will adorn the main stage from which Bryant and daughter Gianna will be memorialized.

Anthony Mercado, 34, and his brother, Edward Mercado, were among the fortunate few to snare tickets. They got up at 5 a.m. and drove from Riverside, about 60 miles east, to pay their respects.

Edward Mercado, 31, was decked in head-to-toe Lakers garb. Even his hair — purple and yellow, with a green snake on his crown — was a tribute to hero.

Like Almeida, he didn’t believe he’d be able to keep his composure once the commemorations start, he said.

“It’s unreal right now, but once I get in there, I know the emotion and tears will come out. … Right now, I’m just holding it in. It’s a blessing to be here. It’s part of history going down right now, and I’ll talk to my sons about this moment.”

Dee Bradley and Josie MacDougall don’t have tickets. Still, they coordinated their jerseys — Bradley wore the No. 8 Bryant rocked for the first part of his career, while MacDougall donned the No. 24 Bryant wore in the latter half — and made their ways to the Staples Center on Monday morning.

“I had to come pay my respects,” Bradley said.

Fans should be in their seats by 9:45 a.m. (12:45 p.m. ET), and the two-and-a-half hour event is slated to tip off around 10:20 a.m. The arena is scheduled to host a Los Angeles Clippers game at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s going to be a very emotional celebration of life for Kobe, Gianna and the seven others who lost their lives,” Staples Center president Lee Zeidman said. “I think, having done Michael Jackson and having done Nipsey Hussle, this will be one of the most emotional because of what Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, those others meant to Los Angeles, Southern California, but to the world as well.”

KSL 5 TV Live

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