After Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter Gianna, 13, family friend LeBron James said that every game he plays will be emotional. The same goes for the Feb. 16 NBA All-Star, in which LBJ will honor his ‘niece’ Gigi on the court.
NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago will pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, as well as the seven others who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA on January 26. LeBron James, who will serve as a team captain at the annual game, along with the rest of his All-Star team will wear No. 2 jerseys to honor Gianna — the number she wore on the basketball court.
“They asked me which number did I want to wear, the 24 or 2 for my team, and I picked 2,” LeBron said on Monday, February 3, according to ESPN. He explained that the league contacted him the week prior to inform of its plans to honor the late Lakers legend and his daughter — with one NBA All-Star team set to wear No. 24 in honor of Kobe and the other to wear No. 2 in honor of Gianna. Team Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, the league’s reigning MVP, will wear No. 24, along with the rest of his All-Star roster.
LeBron later admitted that he made the choice to wear No. 2 because, one word — Zhuri, his 5-year-old daughter. She is the youngest of Bron’s three kids, sons Bryce, 12, and Bronny Jr., 15.
The All-Star draft will take place on February 6, with LeBron and Giannis drafting the starters and then the reserves. The All-Star Game will take place on February 16 at the United Center in Chicago.
LeBron — who had just spoken to Kobe on the morning he died after passing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on night prior — played with the 20-year Laker on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.
Following the Lakers’ game on January 31 — the team’s first since Kobe’s untimely death — LeBron became emotional when he spoke about how important fatherhood was to his late friend.
“It felt like these last three years were the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” he said in a post-game press conference. “I think we all can say that. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, being able to just be with his daughters, be with his family.”
“To see him these last three years just being … y’all see ‘girldad,’ the hashtag. I’m a girl dad,” Bron said, adding, “My brother right here [Anthony Davis] is a girl dad.”
Ahead of the game, in which the Lakers ultimately lost to the Trailblazers, LeBron took the mic during a heartfelt tribute to Kobe, where he admittedly “went off script” and spoke from the heart.
“At some point we will have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight,” he began. “This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body. 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.”
Bron concluded his speech with a nod to Kobe’s famous exit after his last game on April 16, 2016. “In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out,’” he said. “But, in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”