LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are preparing to make their return to the court after a four-month hiatus from the regular season

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 23, 2020 01:47 PM
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Kobe Bryant and LeBron James
| Credit: John McCoy/Getty Images

Nearly six months after the NBA legend's untimely death, Kobe Bryant has never strayed far from LeBron James' heart and mind.

The 35-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star is currently in Orlando, Florida, preparing to make his return to the court on Friday after a four-month hiatus from the regular season. But during a conference call with reporters this week, James took a moment to reflect on Bryant, his former Olympic teammate, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others on Jan. 26.

"A day doesn't go by when I don't think about him," James said, according to Mark Medina of USA Today.

While James and Bryant were often viewed as rivals before the latter's retirement from the NBA in 2016, Bryant frequently praised James once he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers two years later.

Bryant, who sat courtside during a handful of Lakers games this season, championed James for coming to Los Angeles and giving the team a chance to win a 17th championship.

“When LeBron came to Los Angeles, he is now a Laker, he is part of our brotherhood, part of our fraternity, and we should embrace him that way,” Bryant told the Los Angeles Times in January. “You got to celebrate … appreciate what he is as an athlete while he is here. Appreciate this guy, celebrate what he’s done because it’s truly remarkable.”

LeBron James in the Lakers locker room
| Credit: Jason Hahn

The night before his death, Bryant celebrated James for having passed him for the No. 3 position on the NBA's All-Time Scoring List.

"Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next," Bryant posted on social media after the game.

James later wrote a tribute to Bryant that revealed he had spoken to him just hours before the fatal helicopter ride.

“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!!“ James, who also got a tribute tattoo in memory of Bryant, wrote on Instagram on Jan. 27.

“I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! Man I love you big bro," he continued, in part. "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 s— on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!"

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The Lakers are one of 22 teams preparing to restart the NBA season. On Thursday, they will face the Dallas Mavericks at 7 p.m. EST on NBA TV in a scrimmage game.

Along with the L.A. Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, the Lakers are favorites to win the title this year — which, if they win, will be a fitting end to an emotional season like no other.