Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving credits his late mentor Kobe Bryant for leading him to a historic performance on Friday night.
Irving scored 54 points in the Nets’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, leading his team to a victory. Though 54 points isn’t a career-high for the athlete, it was an incredible feat that makes him the third player in NBA history to make over 80 percent of his shots while scoring over 50 points in a game, according to CBS Sports.
While speaking to reporters afterward, Irving, 27, said he had channeled Bryant’s “Mamba mentality” during the game, which was held less than a week after the basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
Irving, a longtime friend of Bryant, had reportedly sat out the Nets’ game last Sunday due to personal reasons.
“I’m just happy to be back playing the game that I love most … the most beautiful sound is just hearing these fans out here and having my family here, it just makes it all worth it,” Irving said after Friday’s game. “I hit a few shots in the first half, so I had to keep it going. Kobe mentality, and Mamba mentality. Keep going, keep going. It felt good.”
"Hit a few shots in the first half, I had to keep it going, Kobe mentality. Mamba Mentality. Keep going, keep going." pic.twitter.com/9SMfpBo4Es— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 1, 2020
Bryant’s “Mamba mentality” is a reference to the former Los Angeles Lakers star’s “Black Mamba” nickname, which he created when he started a new chapter by switching his jersey number from 8 to 24 during the 2006 to 2007 season.
Earlier this week, PEOPLE confirmed that Bryant had also filed to trademark “Mambacita” for his daughter Gianna, who received the nickname for her talents as a basketball player.
NBA players including Irving and LeBron James have been paying tribute to Bryant and Gianna in the days since their deaths. Ahead of the Lakers’ first game since the tragedy, James stepped out on the court on Friday night to deliver a passionate speech in honor of his late friend.
“Tonight is a celebration,” James, 35, said. “Before we get to play, Kobe is a brother to me. From the time I was in high school watching him from afar to getting in this league and watching him up close. All the battles that we had throughout my career — the determination to just want to win, to just want to be great.”
“The fact that I’m here now means so much to me… to continue his legacy not only for this year but as long as we can play the game we love,” he concluded.
Bryant and Gianna were on their way to a youth basketball game with parents and players from the Mamba Sports Academy girls’ team when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California. They died alongside John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.