Ahead of the Lakers' bubble debut against the Clippers, LeBron James posted a photo of himself wearing a finger sleeve with Kobe Bryant's No. 24 jersey number.
James said he's thought about Bryant everyday since he died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.
And the morning before his first game in 142 days, James made sure to pay homage to the 18-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP and one-time regular season MVP in 2008.
"The Lakers franchise is not where it is today without Kobe’s presence," James said in a video conference call on Tuesday. "...Kobe’s presence, his legacy, is here everyday. You put on purple and gold Laker apparel, you think about basketball in general, even before I became a Laker, his legacy was cemented. And I had the opportunity to play with him not only in All-Star games, but with the Olympic team a couple times. So, if you’re a ball player, you like the game, you play the game, even if you don’t play the game [and] you’re just a fan, there's no way you can’t think about Kobe on a day-to-day basis."
When the NBA season resumes Thursday at Walt Disney World near Orlando, James will try to lead the Lakers to their first championship since 2010 -- when Bryant won his fifth and final title with the franchise. The Lakers, who are atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14, play the second-seeded Clippers (44-20), who are 5 1/2 games behind them, in their first of eight seeding games.
James was devastated after Bryant's death and vowed to carry on his legacy.
Hours before Bryant died, he called James to congratulate him for passing him for third on the NBA's all-time scoring list in a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 25. As the team flew home to Los Angeles the following morning, they found out about the crash.
James vowed to "put this s--- on my back and keep it going!!" over Instagram. He got a tattoo of a Black Mamba and Bryant's No. 8 and 24 jersey numbers on his thigh. He cried during the national anthem in his first game after Bryant's death. And he spoke in front of 19,000 people that night calling Bryant his brother.
In that speech, James promised to do everything he can to honor Bryant.
"I want to continue, along with my teammates, to continue his legacy, not only for this year, but as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want," James said Jan. 31. "So in the words of Kobe Bryant, 'Mamba Out.' But in the words of us, 'Not forgotten.' Live on, brother."