LeBron James (right) formed a strong bond with Kobe Bryant as two of the best players in the league. (Reuters: David Richard/USA TODAY Sports)
LeBron James is the latest NBA star to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant after the LA Lakers great died alongside his daughter in a helicopter crash.
- Via Instagram, LeBron James made his first public comments since the death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant
- James passed Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list the day before Bryant’s death
- Bryant’s last social media post was about that milestone, saying James was “continuing to move the game forward”
The Lakers’ next game against the Clippers, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed indefinitely while other games around the league went ahead with players, coaches and commentators paying tribute in their own ways.
The league announced the decision to delay the Lakers-Clippers clash in a statement, saying it “was made out of respect for the Lakers organisation”.
The Lakers learned about the crash while flying home from an east coast road trip, with James and several other players visibly devastated by the news when they got off the plane.
James made his first public comments in an Instagram post including several photos of himself with Bryant. The four-time NBA MVP and 16-time All-Star said he was “heartbroken and devastated”, and had been crying repeatedly while trying to write about Bryant.
“I’m not ready but here I go,” he wrote.
James, who joined the Lakers last season, said the two spoke by phone on the day Bryant died.
“Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have,” James wrote, calling Gianna “niece Gigi” and Kobe his “big bro”.
“My heart goes to 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 shit on my back and keep it going!
“Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!
“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!”
The phone call between the two NBA greats came after James passed Bryant for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list the previous night.
In fact, Bryant’s final post on social media was paying tribute to James for passing his mark of 33,643 points.
@kobebryant: Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames . Much respect my brother
James fondly recalled playing against and alongside his idol and recounted one of the first times he met Bryant, when the young Lakers star was preparing to play in the 2001 All-Star game and gave the then-high school prodigy his shoes.
“It’s just too much. It doesn’t make sense. Now I’m here in a Lakers uniform in Philadelphia, where he’s from,” James said after the record-breaking game against the 76ers.
The Lakers made grief counsellors available to employees on Monday after the loss of Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year NBA career with the franchise, winning championships in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
Bryant was famously competitive and wanted to instil that nature in the players that succeeded him. (Reuters: Lucy Nicholson)
He retired as the franchise’s career leader in points, games played and numerous other statistical categories.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss was quite close to Bryant, and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was Bryant’s agent during his playing career.
“The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences,” a Lakers statement read after the postponement was announced.
“This is a very difficult time for all of us.”
Dwight Howard is the only current Lakers player who played with Bryant for the franchise, in 2012-13, but the players all knew him.
James and Bryant teamed up on the US Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012, while current Lakers player Anthony Davis played a backup role on that 2012 London Olympics team when he played for the New Orleans Hornets.
Bryant had sat courtside at a number of Lakers games in recent years with Gianna and introduced her to many of the league’s star players.
The next game on the Lakers’ schedule is on Saturday at home against Portland.