LeBron James took to social media to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant Monday night, revealing in his lengthy Instagram post that he spoke to Bryant on Sunday, the same day Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles.
"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!" James started the post.
"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!!
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"I'm heartbroken and devastated my brother!! Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids," he continued.
"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 s— 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!!" he concluded his post, adding the hashtags "#Mamba4Life" and "#Gigi4Life."
James, who now plays for Bryant's old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, shared a series of photos of the two smiling and embracing, as well as fan art of them both wearing Lakers jerseys in the locker room and on the court together.
Bryant's final tweet, written the night he died, congratulated James on surpassing him to become the third-highest point scorers in NBA history. "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames," Bryant wrote. "Much respect my brother."
The Athletic reports that several Lakers players listened into a call between Bryant and James late Saturday night after James passed Bryant on the scoring charts.
The Lakers reportedly learned of Bryant's death during their flight back to Los Angeles on Sunday morning. Cameras captured footage of an emotional James being consoled on the tarmac.
Federal investigators said Monday that the pilot of the helicopter that was carrying Bryant and the other victims told air traffic control he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer just before the aircraft crashed.
The National Transportation Safety Board is asking for the public's help in piecing together what caused the crash, and requested that any photos of the weather near the crash be sent to @firstname.lastname@example.org. Part of the reason for the assistance is that the helicopter did not have a black box on board, although NTSB also started that it was not required to have one.
Monday, the LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner provided an update about the ongoing search for the victims' bodies, revealing that three bodies were recovered among the wreckage, but the rest had not yet been located. The report also did not reveal which of the nine bodies had been recovered.
Along with Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, the other victims involved were two of Gianna's basketball teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, as well as Alyssa's parents John Altobelli and Keri Altobelli and Payton's mother, Sarah Chester. Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser was also aboard the flight, which was piloted by Ara Zobayan. There were no survivors.
Bryant and Gianna are survived by wife and mother Vanessa Bryant and daughters and sisters Natalia, Bianka and Capri, who was born in June.
Photo credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant / Contributor / Getty