LOS ANGELES, USA – LeBron James, his voice fraught with emotion, addressed the Staples Center crowd before the Los Angeles Lakers returned to NBA action for the first time since Kobe Bryant‘s death.
Flinging away his prepared notes, James said to cheers he would speak from the heart, calling on all present to celebrate Bryant’s life and a career that included 5 NBA titles in 20 years with the Lakers.
“I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe,” James said of Bryant, who died Sunday, January 26, in a helicopter crash. “But I look at this as a celebration tonight.
“This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken down body, the getting up, sitting down to everything, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be,” James said in a moving pregame Lakers tribute on Friday, January 31 (Saturday, February 1, Philippine time)
“Tonight we celebrate the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became the best dad we’ve seen over the last 3 years.”
“Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years.” pic.twitter.com/0sS7e91cuz— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
James vowed he and his Lakers teammates would continue the legacy of the club icon. (LOOK: LeBron James gets inked with ‘Mamba 4 Life’ tattoo)
“I wanna continue along with my teammates to continue his legacy. Not only for this year, but as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love, because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want,” he said.
James finished his heartfelt speech saying that the NBA great certainty wouldn’t be forgotten.
“So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba Out’… but in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”
All the Lakers players wore Bryant’s No. 8 and 24 jerseys during warmups.
As the lineups were announced, each player was introduced as Kobe Bryant: “No. 24, 6’6, 20th campaign from Lower Merion High School.:
The Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers also each took 24-second violations to start the game as tribute.
“Number 24, 6’6, 20th campaign from Lower Merion High School…” pic.twitter.com/H314wWufA2— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
Usher sang Amazing Grace and cellist Ben Hong performed while a photo montage of Bryant was shown on the video board as many players and fans broke down in tears.
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth also performed in a touching halftime tribute.
“Rest In Peace to the late, great Kobe Bryant.” pic.twitter.com/jmqQMVC2UO— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
– With a report from Agence France-Presse