Following the Lakers’ 127-119 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, James, 35, spoke to reporters about Bryant’s legacy, including his love for his family — wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, Capri, 7 months, and Gianna, 13, who was killed alongside her father in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“You know, for me, I was telling my wife a couple of days ago. I was like, ‘Seeing Kobe play the game of basketball for 20 years for the Lakers, since he was 18 to 38, and I was like, ‘You know what’s crazy,’ ” James told reporters after the game, according to CBS Sports.
“These last three years, out of all the success he had, five rings, multiple MVPs at the All-Star Game, MVP of this league, first-team everything, all life, all world, all basketball, I felt like these last three years was the happiest I’ve ever seen him,'” James said.
“Being able to just be with his daughters, be with his family, because when we’re playing this game of basketball, we give so much to it,” the father of three said. “It’s my 17th year so I know, you give so much to it that unfortunately, your family comes to the wayside at times, because when you want to be great at something, when you want to be the best at something, you become so driven that you won’t let nothing stand in the way of it. Not even your own family sometimes.”
James added, “At the end of the day when y’all punch y’all clocks, and we punch our clocks, and we’re either done for the day or done doing what we’re doing, make sure you like, hug the s— out of your family. If you’ve got kids, tell your kids you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can. And don’t feel bad.”
In 2016, Bryant retired from basketball as a five-time NBA champion, 2008 league MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star and four-time All-Star MVP who spent his two decades with the Lakers.
He also won gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, and was the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points.
The night before Bryant’s death, James surpassed him on the list of leading scorers, becoming the new third-leading star.
Ahead of the Lakers and Trail Blazers game on Friday night, James had stepped out on the court to deliver an emotional speech remembering Bryant.
“I’ve got something written down… but Laker Nation, man I would be selling y’all short if I read off this s— so I’m going to go straight from the heart,” the athlete began.
James went on to explain that while a memorial for Bryant and Gianna is on the horizon, he was looking at the game as a “celebration.”
“This is a celebration of the 20 years, the blood, the sweat, the tears. The broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the everything. The countless hours of determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age and retired at 38,” James said, fighting back tears.
Before the game, the Lakers player had also debuted a new tattoo in honor of Bryant, featuring a snake — a reference to Bryant’s “Black Mamba” nickname — and the late athlete’s jersey numbers, 8 and 24.
Bryant and his daughter 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 amid foggy conditions on a hill in Calabasas, California. They were killed alongside John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan.