Football star J.J. Watt paid tribute to the legendary Kobe Bryant as he closed ‘SNL,’ just six days after the former Laker tragically died in a helicopter crash.
Saturday Night Live took a break from comedy to mourn the death of former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant on Feb. 2. First-time host J.J. Watt, 30, closed the show in Kobe’s iconic #24 Lakers jersey as he thanked fans for watching. “Thank you to Luke Combs, Alec Baldwin, Lorne, everyone here,” he announced, with the 29-year-old country star by his side. “Thank you so, so much — I really appreciate it and I hope you enjoyed that one,” he added. The Houston Texan then paid homage by crumpling a page from a script, and shooting it just like Kobe would on a three-pointer in a basketball game! In a show of brotherhood, J.J. embraced Luke as the show closed out for another week.
Twitter exploded as soon as the sweet, but brief, moment happened. “The greatest American athlete today ends his SNL debut by honoring Kobe Bryant,” fan @saradioboy posted, along with a quick video of J.J. shooting the paper ball. “JJ Watt did an amazing job hosting SNL and shooting paper ball in Kobe Bryant jersey was a touching homage. #SNL,” @DarrellDass shared, while @SilentMovieStar gushed “Loved seeing J. J. Watt wear that Kobe Bryant jersey! 😭 Plus throw that basketball. 🏀 #SNL.”
SNL wasn’t the only platform J.J. used to grieve the loss of Kobe. The NFL star immediately took to Twitter on the day Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other victims lost their lives in Kobe’s private S-76B helicopter that crashed near Calabasas, CA. “Still can’t comprehend or believe it. Devastating. Truly devastating. Rest In Peace,” JJ tweeted on Jan. 26, alongside a black-and-white photo of Kobe and Gianna sitting in the sidelines of a basketball game. The father and daughter duo shared a mutual passion for the sport, and the helicopter was on its way to Gianna’s basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, which Kobe was supposed to coach at.
Love JJ Watt’s tribute to Kobe on @nbcsnl #JJWATT #KobeBryant @JJWatt pic.twitter.com/J2YSoXQq5N
— Sabren (@sabren_w) February 2, 2020
SNL followed in the footsteps of other late night programming like Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, which both paid its respects by reflecting on Kobe’s NBA legacy, his dedication to being a father of four daughters and the great friend he was. Just hours after his death, Alicia Keys also changed up her opening monologue for the 2020 Grammy Awards to deliver a special speech and performance with Boyz II Men for the late basketball star.
Two days after the fatal helicopter crash, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed the nine victims on-board: Kobe, Gianna, Gianna’s teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, the teenagers’ parents John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Sarah Chester, the Lady Mambas assistant basketball coach Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan. Kobe was 41 years old; he’s survived by his wife of nearly 19 years, Vanessa Bryant, 37, who broke her silence on the tragedy with a message that was also written on behalf of their surviving three daughters — Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 mos. — on Jan. 29.