Sports

Watch LeBron James’ Heartfelt, Unrehearsed Tribute to Kobe Bryant

LeBron James speaks during the Los Angeles Lakers' pregame ceremony to honor Kobe Bryant.
LeBron James speaks during the Los Angeles Lakers’ pregame ceremony to honor Kobe Bryant. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

On Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers took the floor at Staples Center for their first game since the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others. The Lakers’ pre-game tribute to Bryant began with a performance of “Amazing Grace” by Usher.

Cellist Ben Hong then accompanied a six-minute-plus video tribute to Bryant.

After Boyz II Men sang the national anthem, LeBron James came to the center of the court and read the names of the nine people who died on Sunday: Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Gianna Bryant, and Kobe Bryant. James then said the following:

Here’s a complete transcript of James’ speech:

Now, I’ve got something written down. You know, they asked me to 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 that come to 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. But when we’re going through things like 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 organization, 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 from the bottom of their heart, as Kobe said.

Now I know at some point we’re going to have a memorial for Kobe. But I look at this, 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 dad 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, from 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. 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.