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LeBron James, Lakers 'celebrate' life of Kobe Bryant ahead of 1st game back – CBC.ca

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Red roses adorned the courtside seats where Kobe and Gianna Bryant sat at the last Los Angeles Lakers game they attended. On the overhead video board, photos of Bryant in action for the Lakers alternated with those of the other seven people who were killed alongside him and his 13-year-old daughter in a helicopter crash.

Friday night at Staples Center was unlike any other.

Longtime public address announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced the entire Lakers lineup the same way: “From Lower Merion High School, No. 8, Kobe Bryant.”

In a ceremony before the Lakers’ first game since the crash on Sunday, Usher stood at centre court of the darkened arena in front of No. 8 and No. 24 yellow rose arrangements to sing “Amazing Grace.” Cellist Ben Hong from the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed while video of Bryant talking about his life and career played.

WATCH | Lakers’ video in memory of Kobe Bryant:

The Los Angeles Lakers honoured the victims of the helicopter crash in Calabasas and highlighted the life of Kobe Bryant before standing for a 24.2 second moment of silence. 2:43

Fans interrupted the silence at times with chants of “Kobe!” and “MVP.”

Boyz II Men, from Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia, sang the national anthem.

LeBron James, wearing No. 24, wiped his eyes as the anthem ended. He and Anthony Davis, wearing No. 8, hugged.

The crowd stood for 24.2 seconds of silence as the shot clocks ticked off the time until the horn blared. Spotlights shone on the empty seats set aside for Bryant and his daughter. His had a black-and-white Mamba jersey and hers had a No. 24 jersey.

James stood at centre court and read the names of the nine victims, ending with Bryant. He told the crowd he had remarks prepared and pulled a piece of paper from his sweatpants. But then James tossed it to the floor.

“Laker Nation, I would be selling you short if I read off this shit, so I’m going to go straight from the heart,” he said.

WATCH | Wiz Khalifa, Charlie Puth perform ‘See You Again:’

Wiz Khalifia and Charlie Puth delivered an emotional performance of their song “See You Again” as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. 3:48

In the couple of hours leading up to the game there was mostly silence in the arena. The electric atmosphere that surges through the arena before NBA games was nowhere to be felt. Media talked quietly among themselves without the usual music playing. Somber ushers took up their positions with black ribbons attached to their purple work shirts. Grief counselling was offered to arena staff and one female usher pulled tissues out of her pocket that had been provided.

Inside the Lakers locker room, Bryant’s No. 24 gold jersey hung on a wooden hanger from a fire alarm next to James’ locker. It was Bryant’s locker when he helped the team win five NBA championships during his 20 years in Los Angeles.

“He’s been really a tower of strength for all of us,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of James. “We’re following his lead.”

Dwight Howard sat at his locker with earbuds in. None of the players spoke before the game.

‘A lot bigger’ than a game

Back in the arena, Jeff Nadal was among the early arriving fans. Nadal rolled up a giveaway No. 24 T-shirt in his hand and rested his chin on it, staring into space.

“It doesn’t really feel like you’re here for a game,” the 26-year-old middle school teacher from Whittier said. “It feels like you’re here for something a lot bigger than that. We didn’t even know the guy, but we feel like we did.”

The music began playing once the public flowed through the doors. Several fans donned the gold T-shirts at their seats; others took pictures of the video board and the electronic ribbon scrolling the victims’ names around the upper level.

“We know it’s going to be a heavy-hearted night,” Vogel said. “It’s our job to manage our emotions and honour Kobe, Gianna and the other victims the right way.”

Across the street from Staples Center, large crowds continued to gather for informal public mourning at a plaza loaded with flowers, balloons and hand-written messages, many on the pavement, honouring Bryant and his daughter.

Large poster boards covered in signatures and messages were moved to the middle of the blocked off street separating the arena and the LA Live entertainment district.

The Lakers will wear a “KB” patch on their jerseys while his retired No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys decorate the court. Fans on one side of the arena will wear shirts with No. 8 while the other side will wear No. 24.

The Lakers asked fans who didn’t have tickets to not linger outside. They also advised that the pregame ceremony would not be shown on outdoor video screens.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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