The world — especially from a news and culture standpoint — seemingly came to a stop Sunday afternoon as reports of Kobe Bryant’s death circulated on the internet and television. Shock, disbelief, and slow acceptance of the tragic news carried over into what would’ve been Sunday’s largest cultural event, the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Considering the intersection of music and sports, the Grammys were certainly going to note the untimely passing of an NBA superstar and worldwide celebrity. But the ceremony was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Grammys have been in 16 of the past 17 years. It would’ve been impossible for the Grammys to move forward without acknowledging Bryant in the arena where he played 17 of his 20 NBA seasons. But doing so was never a question.

Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys were illuminated high up in the Staples Center in tribute as Grammys host Alicia Keys began her introductory monologue by saying “We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.” She then began to sing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” popularized by Boyz II Men in 1991. (The song was originally written and released by Freddie Perren and Christine Yarian in 1975.) During the first verse, the three members of Boyz II Men joined her on stage.

“Right now, Kobe and his daughter Gianna, and all of those who have been tragically lost today, are in our spirit and our hearts, in our prayers, they’re in this building,” said Keys, prior to the performance.  “And I would like to ask everybody to take a moment and just hold them inside you, and share our strength and our support for their families. We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this. Never, never, never, never…”

“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” was the perfect song choice, capturing a sentiment that everyone watching was feeling. Really, could there have been any other song more fitting for the moment? The a cappella rendition by Keys, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman made the song so much more resonant, the emotions from the lyrics and performance more vivid.

“We love you, Kobe,” said Keys as the performance ended.

The CBS cameras then showed those No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys, lit up against the venue’s darkness. It was an extremely poignant, powerful moment, and a wonderful tribute to Bryant.


About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.