LeBron James led the Lakers to victory on Sunday against their longtime rival Boston Celtics. But looming heavy over the game was Kobe Bryant's spirit, just one day before his public memorial and celebration of life will take over the team's home arena.
For James, he has been the public face of the team when it comes to honoring Bryant and what he meant to the team, the NBA, the city, and the nation. He spoke from the heart in the Lakers' first game at home since Bryant's passing, helped to honor both the Lakers icon and his daughter at the All-Star Game, and continues to keep the late star's jersey in his locker.
But all of it is clearly weighing heavy on James and he has shown his emotions many times. And following the win against the Celtics, he let it be known that he's still coping with the loss.
"His jersey is sitting in my locker right now. But it just puts me in a difficult mindstate if I continue to harp on it, if you can respect that," USA Today reported Mark Medina shared on Twitter.
"Laker Nation, I would be selling y'all short if I read off this s—, so I'mma go straight from the heart," James said before his speech, tossing away his prepared notes. "As I look all around this arena, we’re all grieving, we’re all hurting, 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 until the point – I had 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 organization but from everybody. Everybody that’s here is, this really, truly, truly a family, and I know Kobe and Gianna and Vanessa and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their hearts as Kobe said."
"Tonight is a celebration," James continued. "Kobe’s a brother to me. From the time I was in high school and watching him from afar to getting in this league at 18 watching him up close, all the battles 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, 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."
Bryant's public memorial will be held Monday, Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. ET.