It was a highly emotional night of heartache mixed with celebration of the life of Kobe Bryant at the Lakers first game since his Jan. 26 death in a helicopter crash. The team hit the paint at Staples Center on Jan. 31 to take on the Portland Trailblazers and the squad’s leader LeBron James, 35, helped remember the man he called his “Big Brother.” He already got a tattoo on his left thigh honoring his late pal reading “Mamba 4 Life” . It included Kobe’s numbers 8 and 24 over a Black Mamba snake, in honor of Kobe’s nickname. Ahead of the gameLeBron was seen tearfully hugging his teammates and cried while Usher sang “Amazing Grace” at the start of Kobe’s tribute.
King James paid an emotional tribute to Kobe by giving a speech ahead of the game. Wearing Kobe’s number 24 jersey, he recognized all nine of the victims of the helicopter crash by reading aloud their names. He put aside his pre-prepared words on piece of paper, and said he was going to speak straight from the heart. LeBron told of how everyone was hurt and heartbroken, and to lean on the shoulders of their families. Which is what he said he saw all week from everyone from the team, to the coaching staff, to the entire L.A. community.
LeBron said he wanted the night to be a celebration of the 20 years of, “the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken down body and the countless hours… and determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight we celebrate the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the last three years,” during his retirement. Then he said Kobe’s last words from his retirement night, “Mamba out,” but added, “In the words of us ‘not forgotten.’ Live on brother.”
LeBron James’ speech was straight from the heart.
— theScore (@theScore) February 1, 2020
The whole tribute was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to watch…I broke down seeing Lebron cry https://t.co/ay8PPgKkKr
— Tom (@thakidochoa) February 1, 2020
On Jan. 28 LeBron wrote a heartbreaking Instagram tribute to Kobe. “I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!!” he mourned.
He continued, “I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to (Kobe’s wife) Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this sh*t on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!”
Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi“ and seven others were killed when the helicopter they were riding in crashed into a Calabasas, CA hillside in heavy fog on Jan. 26. They had been en route from Kobe’s home in Orange County to his Thousand Oaks, CA Mamba Sports Academy for a basketball tournament Gigi was playing in. Kobe was her team’s coach. He left behind wife Vanessa, 37, and daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.