LeBron James vowed Friday that he and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates would continue the legacy of club icon Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash.
James, his voice fraught with emotion, addressed the Staples Center crowd before the Lakers returned to NBA action for the first time since Bryant's death.
Flinging away his prepared notes, James said to cheers he would speak from the heart, calling on all present to celebrate Bryant's life and a career that included five NBA titles in 20 years with the Lakers.
"I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe," he said. "But 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, sitting down to 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 the best dad we've seen over the last three years.
"The fact that I'm here now means so much to me," James said. "I'm going to continue with my teammates to continue his legacy not only for this year but as long as we can continue to play the game of basketball that we love, because that's what Kobe Bryant would want."
Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James (C) has called on all present to celebrate Kobe Bryant's life and career