Remembering an icon. LeBron James gave a stirring speech dedicated to his “brother” and late NBA legend Kobe Bryant during the first Los Angeles Lakers game since Bryant’s death on Friday, January 31.
The Lakers forward, 35, paid tribute to Bryant, who died alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26, before the start of the game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. James read off the names of all nine victims who perished in the tragic accident before tossing his written material in favor of speaking “straight from the heart.”
“The first thing that comes to mind is all about family,” the father of three began. “And as I look around this arena, we’re all grieving, we’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken, but when we’re going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family.”
He continued, “From Sunday morning all the way to this point, I heard about Lakers Nation before I got here last year, about how much of a family it is. And that is absolutely what I’ve seen this whole week, not only from the players, not only from the coaching staff, not only from the organization, but from everybody. Everybody that’s here, this is truly, truly a family. I know Kobe and Gianna and Vanessa [Bryant] and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their heart, as Kobe said.”
James went on to speak about Kobe’s dedication to his craft and the fans dedication to their Los Angeles hero, who won the city five NBA championships during the course of his 20-year career as a Laker. The former Cleveland Cavaliers player acknowledged that the Lakers will have a memorial for Kobe “at some point,” but that Friday’s game, which was played against the Portland Trail Blazers, was a “celebration” of Kobe’s impact.
“This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken down body, the getting up, the sitting — everything — the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be,” James said, fighting back tears. “Tonight, we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad that we’ve seen over the last three years, man.”
James concluded with a reflection on his own personal memories of the NBA All Star, who entered the league directly from high school in 1996. The basketball legends played together during the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, taking home gold medals each year.
“Kobe is a brother to me and from the time I was in high school, watching him [from] afar, to get in this league at 18, watching him up close, all the battles that we had throughout my career, the one thing that we always shared is that determination to just want to win and just want to be great,” James explained. “And the fact that I’m here now, means so much to me. I want to continue, along with my teammates, to continue his legacy. Not only for this year, but for as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want.”
“So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out’ but in the words of us, ‘not forgotten.’ Live on, brother,” James said as he finished his emotional speech, which drew a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.
Bryant was memorialized throughout the evening, which began with heartfelt performances from Usher, who sang “Amazing Grace,” and Boyz II Men, who previously performed at the Grammys on Sunday in Bryant’s honor. Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth also paid tribute to the late NBA player during the halftime show with a rendition of their song “See You Again,” which was originally written for late actor Paul Walker.
Bryant died at the age of 41 on Sunday after his private helicopter crashed into the hillside in Calabasas, California, killing all nine people on board, including his daughter Gianna.
The basketball legend is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and their daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
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