Fighting back tears while wearing a Bryant jersey, James delivered an emotional, heartfelt and inspiring speech that is worth watching in its entirety.
"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
If you for some reason cannot watch the above video, here is what James said as he addressed a cheering crowd of fans all mourning Bryant and the eight others who died with him in a helicopter crash on Sunday:
“Before I get started on the speech that I have, I want to acknowledge all the lives that were lost Sunday morning. Alyssa Altobelli. John Altobelli. Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Gianna Bryant and Kobe Bryant.
“Now, I got something written down. You know, they asked me to kind of stay on course or whatever the case may be, but Laker Nation, man, I would be selling y’all short if I read off this shit so I’m gonna go straight from the heart.
“The first thing to keep in mind, man, is all about family. And as I look around this arena, we’re all grieving. We’re all hurt, we’re all heartbroken. When we’re going through something like this, all you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. And from Sunday morning all the way to this point... I (had) heard about Laker Nation before I got hear 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 really, really truly a family, and I know Kobe and Gianna and Vanessa and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their heart.
“And I know at some point we’ll have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears. The broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down. Everything. The countless hours. The determination to be as great as he could be.
“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. 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 watching him from afar, to getting in this league at 18 and 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. To just want to be great. 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 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’ speech was just one of quite a few tributes the Lakers gave Bryant on the evening, including debuting a new logo for their court and jersey patches, handing out Kobe jerseys and leaving the seats he last sat in at Staples Center with his daughter Gianna empty, other than their jerseys and flowers.
The Lakers started off the pregame ceremony to honor the victims of the crash with Usher singing “Amazing Grace,” quickly followed by a video honoring Bryant, in his own words.
Both are incredible, and worth watching in their entirety if you missed them live:
Then, longtime public address announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced the starters, announcing them all as Kobe Bryant. When the game started, the Lakers took a 24-second violation, followed by the Blazers taking an eight-second violation, tributes to Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys:
“Number 24, 6’6, 20th campaign from Lower Merion High School...” pic.twitter.com/H314wWufA2— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2020
I have genuinely no idea how the Lakers can play a game after this emotional of a display, but they’re soldiering on so far, as of when this was published.
But what an incredible job by the whole organization on this tribute, though. From James standing up and leading the team forward with a perfect speech to the various tribute videos, everyone involved deserves tremendous praise for striking the perfect tone in mourning such a gigantic loss, and getting as ready to move ahead as they can be.