For LeBron James, Kobe Bryant’s death provided a powerful reminder of life’s priorities

”When you punch your clocks and we punch our clocks, when we’re done for the day, make sure you hug the s— out of your family,” James told the assembled media members. “If you have kids, tell them you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can, and don’t feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved one’s events and [that means you] sacrifice your job.”LeBron James

In the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s shocking death in a helicopter crash Sunday, LeBron James spent the week sequestered from the media and off social media.

The four-time MVP and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates met daily for practices and bonding, but their Tuesday game against the Clippers was postponed, giving James a rare break from his unrelenting public responsibilities during the NBA season. For four days, he wasn’t expected to have the answers, on or off the court.

James returned to the spotlight Friday, stepping to center court to deliver an extended pregame statement honoring Bryant before the Lakers’ 127-119 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The speech hit all the right and expected notes: James recognized the victims, expressed sympathy to their families, praised Bryant’s basketball abilities and thanked Lakers fans for coming together as a community. He projected strength and pledged to honor Bryant’s legacy, all while doing his best to hold back tears.

What he said was just beautiful. It was strong,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “It represented who he is and who we are as a team. [That was] definitely the heaviest game I’ve been a part of.”

After the game, the weight of Bryant’s death on James was even more obvious. He wore sunglasses to hide his eyes, he hung his head at times, and he answered questions, uncharacteristically, in monotone. Yet James was able to make clear that Bryant’s death had led him to reflect on his own life, career, family and priorities.

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers wore Kobe Bryant's jersey numbers during pregame warm-ups to pay respect to the late Los Angeles Lakers legend.  (Harry How/Getty Images)
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers wore Kobe Bryant’s jersey numbers during pregame warm-ups to pay respect to the late Los Angeles Lakers legend. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Although James and Bryant were rivals for more than a decade, they had much in common. They are champions, MVPs, Olympic gold medalists, fathers, maniacal workers, global celebrities, sneaker pitchmen and heirs to Michael Jordan. They had different strengths on the court and distinct personalities off it, but they clearly could relate to each other in ways outsders could never fathom.

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