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LeBron James vows to continue Kobe Bryant legacy in emotional tribute

LeBron James vows to continue Kobe Bryant legacy in emotional tribute
© Reuters
Kobe Bryant's final tweet before his death in a helicopter crash was about James.

Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James has posted an emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant following the NBA veteran's death on Sunday.

James took to Instagram to express his feelings after Bryant, daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles hills.

Bryant was a five-time NBA champion who played for the Lakers throughout his 20-year career.

"I'm not ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had," James wrote.

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I'm Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn't think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we'd have. WTF!! I'm heartbroken and devastated my brother!! πŸ˜’πŸ˜’πŸ˜’πŸ˜’πŸ’”. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNationπŸ’œπŸ’› and it's my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There's so much more I want to say but just can't right now because I can't get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Lifeβ€οΈπŸ™πŸΎ #Gigi4Lifeβ€οΈπŸ™πŸΎ

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"I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn't think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we'd have. WTF!! I'm heartbroken and devastated my brother!!

"Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it's my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!!

Lakers 76ers Basketball
LA Lakers' LeBron James, right, puts up the ball with Philadelphia 76ers' Shake Milton defending. James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA all-time scoring during the game. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

"Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There's so much more I want to say but just can't right now because I can't get through it! Until we meet again my brother!!"

Bryant's final post on Twitter before his death was a message to James, saying: "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother."

The Lakers' game against city rivals the Clippers was postponed as a mark of respect following the death of Bryant and his daughter.

The fixture will now take place at a later date.

"The National Basketball Association game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Clippers scheduled for Tuesday, January 28 at Staples Center has been postponed," a statement from the NBA read.

"The decision was made out of respect for the Lakers organisation, which is deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

The Lakers made their first public comment since the tragedy with a brief statement on Monday.

"The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available," it said.

The news of Bryant's death sparked an outpouring of grief around the world as tributes flooded in with Michael Jordan, arguably basketball's most famous name, former US president Barack Obama and friend and former England football captain David Beckham among those to pay their respects.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people, including the pilot, had died in the crash but was awaiting the coroner's report before confirming any identities as it would be "inappropriate" to do so.

Thousands gathered in Los Angeles to pay tribute with a vigil outside the Staples Center, home of the shooting guard's Lakers team.

A shrine to Bryant – who became an Oscar winner in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball, which he wrote and narrated – has been set up outside the stadium, complete with candles, flowers and photographs from fans.

The light towers surrounding Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in purple and gold on Sunday, in homage to the colours of Bryant's Lakers jersey.

Los Angeles City Hall was similarly lit up in the famous purple.

Basketball and sporting figures from around the world also paid tribute to a man, who was hailed as an "extraordinary" athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions of people.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the organisation was "devastated" by the news.

"For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning," he said in a statement.

"He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals.

"But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna."

Beckham, who played for the LA Galaxy from 2007-12, posted on Instagram that: "It's taken me hours to work out what to write and still my words won't ever be enough to describe how I am feeling after the tragic loss of Kobe.

"This was one special athlete, husband, father and friend. Having to write these words is hard enough but also knowing we have lost an amazing human being and his beautiful and talented daughter Gianna is heartbreaking.

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It's taken me hours to work out what to write and still my words won't ever be enough to describe how I am feeling after the tragic loss of Kobe. This was one special athlete, husband, father and friend. Having to write these words is hard enough but also knowing we have lost an amazing human being and his beautiful and talented daughter Gianna is heartbreaking. The commitment Kobe showed to his sport was inspiring, to go through the pain and to finish a game off like only he could inspired me to try to be better. Sometimes I would only go to games just to watch that clock go down to the last 2:00 minutes knowing that we were about to witness something special. Kobe always talked about Vanessa and his beautiful girls and how proud he was of them. Kobe's passion was his family and basketball. He was determined to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to embrace the sport that he loved. His legacy will live on. My family's love and prayers go out to Vanessa and the girls, to Kobe's basketball family, and of course to the families of those who were tragically lost with him yesterday... πŸ’›πŸ’œ

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"The commitment Kobe showed to his sport was inspiring, to go through the pain and to finish a game off like only he could inspired me to try to be better.

"He was determined to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to embrace the sport that he loved. His legacy will live on."

Bryant, who was married to wife Vanessa and had three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, became an 18-time NBA All-Star during a career that saw him transcend the sport.

He was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2008 and is the fourth highest scorer in the history of the NBA with 33,643 points, pushed down from third by James last Saturday night.

People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center
People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

Alongside Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant helped the Lakers win three NBA championships in a row between 2000 and 2002.

Bryant won further NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.

Jordan described Bryant as like his "little brother".

In a statement released by his spokeswoman on Twitter, Johnson said: "I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling.

"I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much.

"He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply – and took great pride in his daughter's love for the game of basketball."

Obama sent love to the Bryant family following their loss.

He tweeted: "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day."

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