Sunday, Aug. 23 was supposed to be the day Kobe Bryant celebrated his 42nd birthday.
It was supposed to be a day he could reflect on what he had to look forward to: his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, making a playoff run for another championship and prepping his acceptance speech for the 2021 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.
Sadly, he never got the chance, as he, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others tragically lost their lives in a late-January helicopter crash. Still, those who knew him best continue to celebrate him.
Current Laker and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James fostered a close friendship with Bryant while battling it out over the years on the court and winning gold medals together as teammates on the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic teams.
“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about him,” James told USA Today.
Lakers All-Star Anthony Davis also played with Bryant on the 2012 Olympic team. Bryant became an active mentor to him after that.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember him,” Davis said to the Los Angeles Times.
Davis and James, once opponents and now Lakers teammates, want to win the title in honor of Bryant’s legacy with the team he helped lead to five championships.
“Now we have the opportunity to finish this season off and make him proud,” Davis continued. “We know that’s what he would want. He would want us to go out there and compete and bring another championship home. Any time we step on the floor, we play for his memory.”
Monday, Aug. 24 has been designated Kobe Bryant Day by California’s Orange County commissioners, the county where Bryant lived with his family. This is in recognition of the numbers 8 and 24, which were Bryant’s jersey numbers during his 20-year tenure with the Lakers.
The Lakers organization will honor Bryant on that day as well, wearing Black Mamba uniforms for Game 4 of their playoff game against the Portland Trailblazers, though the game will be played thousands of miles away without fans in the NBA bubble in Florida.
“Black Mamba” was Kobe’s self-proclaimed nickname.
“We still wear 24 and 8 and the No. 2 with pride and remember how great they were,” James said in his comments to USA Today, referencing the jersey number of Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, who, like her dad, excelled at the game.
Bryant’s devotion to Gianna and his three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, was well documented. Lakers President Rob Pelinka, a close friend of Bryant’s, spoke fondly at Bryant’s memorial fondly about how much his kids meant to the basketball legend.
“He just loved his girls, and there was nothing in the world that meant more to him,” Pelinka said.
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