When the Lakers needed a player to make sense of Kobe Bryant's death in front of 20,000 fans, they turned to LeBron James. He delivered an athlete will ever give. Sadly, Friday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers didn't go nearly as well. The Lakers lost, 127-119, worsening the night's already somber tone.
But James still managed to speak with his typical candor after the loss. Ultimately, it was only a basketball game, and there were far more important matters on everyone's mind at the Staples Center.
The saddest thing for LeBron was how little time Bryant had to spend with his family.
"You know, for me, I was telling my wife a couple of days ago," James said. "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?' And she was like 'what?' I was like 'you know what? 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.'
I think we all can say that. It's like the happiest that I've ever seen. 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. 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.
We get compared all the time to greatness, we get compared all the time to greatness, and that makes us even more driven, and even more shadowed away from our own family. So that's, that's the difficult part that we deal with as professional athletes when you want to be great."
That sacrifice has defined almost every element of LeBron's life so far, and the message he wanted to impart was that while the pursuit of greatness matters, nobody should be blamed for caring about other things.
"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," James said. "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.
Don't feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved one's events or something like that, and sacrifice your job. Because I didn't feel bad in Boston, when I went to go see my son two hours away in Springfield, and we had a game that night, and we got our asses kicked. But I didn't feel bad at all."
That sentiment will have to carry the Lakers forward as they attempt to grapple with the loss of a franchise icon. They are basketball players, but they are human beings first, and the grieving process is far from over. Millions of people are mourning Bryant's loss, and the only way to do it is together.