Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James delivered a heartfelt speech ahead of the team's game against the Portland Trail Blazers - their first game since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.
After acknowledging the nine individuals who passed away in the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers, James spoke of family, competition and his journey through the NBA looking up to Bryant.
"Laker Nation, I would be selling y'all short if I read off this sh-, so I'm gonna go straight from the heart," James said.
"The first thing that comes to mind is all about family 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 and from Sunday morning, all the way to this point, now I heard about Laker 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 organisation, but from everybody. Everybody that's here, this is really, truly, truly a family and I know Kobe and Gianna and Vanessa and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their heart as Kobe said."
pic.twitter.com/F2Ahu0wHry- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
"Now I know at some point we'll have a memorial for Kobe," James continued. "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, the sitting down, the everything, the countless hours, the 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 daddy we've seen over the last three years, man."
"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
"Tonight is a celebration. Before we get to play, love y'all man. Kobe is a brother to me and from the time I was in high school, to watching him 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.
"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 just 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 and his Laker teammates all warmed up in Bryant jerseys, following a touching rendition of the national anthem from Boyz II Men, while Usher performed "Amazing Grace."
Prior to tip-off, James revealed a tattoo tribute to Bryant, featuring a Black Mamba, his jersey numbers No. 8 and No. 24, with "Mamba 4 Life" inscribed underneath.
LeBron's tattoo honoring Kobe! pic.twitter.com/CCwskxSsao- Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 1, 2020
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