On Jan. 25, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, moving into third place with 33,644 points and counting. He wrote “Mamba 4 Life” on his shoes that night, referring to Bryant’s nickname.
The next morning, James received a congratulatory phone call from Bryant, with whom he won two Olympic gold medals and shared many NBA battles. Shortly thereafter, James and his Lakers teammates boarded the team plane in Philadelphia to head home to Los Angeles.
While the Lakers were on that cross-country flight, Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, and seven others boarded a helicopter near L.A. It later crashed, taking the lives of everyone aboard.
News of Kobe’s death began to make way into the Lakers’ team plane as it flew somewhere over the Midwest. ESPN staff writer Dave McMenamin recently spoke with the Lakers and detailed what that flight was like.
New story: While the Lakers sailed through the sky that fateful Jan. 26 afternoon, the world below them changed forever more. An account of what happened on the plane during a flight they will never forget https://t.co/B9aKG7nkG2
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 24, 2020
According to ESPN, once Anthony Davis came to grips with what teammates were telling him, he shook James awake. James too had trouble comprehending at first. But when head coach Frank Vogel came by to confirm the news to each of his players, emotions took over.
“Everybody was crying,” Davis said. “It was just like something that we didn’t believe, something that was shocking to all of us. Because Kobe, he’s touched so many, you know — players on this team, staff members. … He touched so many people.”
Being the team’s leader, James immediately gathered the players together and led the team in prayer.
“It was just off the top of my head, just off the cuff,” James told ESPN. “I think it was needed for us to come together and just give thanks to the Man Above.
“Even though at times we question Him and question why He do some of the things that He do, know that He’s never made a mistake. And just hope that He has His hands on top of Vanessa [Bryant] and the kids at that time, and hope that He continues to watch over all of us. So, I don’t know, it wasn’t something I thought about. It was something that just kind of came to me, and I said my piece.”
On Jan. 27, James posted a message on Instagram, in which he wrote, “I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! Man I love you 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.”
After postponing their ensuing game, the Lakers took time to honor Bryant on Jan. 31. The pregame ceremony closed with James giving a heartfelt speech while wearing a No. 24 Bryant jersey.
“Kobe is a brother to me,” James said. “From the time I was in high school watching him from afar, to getting in this league at 18 and watching him up close, all the battles that we had throughout my career, the one thing that we always shared was that determination to just want to win, to just want to be great. The fact that I’m here now means so much to me. I want to continue, along with my teammates, his legacy. Not only for this year, but for as long as we can play this 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.”
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