For LeBron James, hitting the court on Aug. 24 wasn't the same experience as any usual game.
The Lakers commemorated "Kobe Bryant Day" on Aug. 24, a date that features the two jersey numbers (8 and 24) that the late basketball legend wore during his career, which James said was a night the team will "always remember."
During the playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers wore a "Black Mamba" uniform designed by Bryant and Nike in 2017, which featured a black snakeskin print in reference to Bryant's nickname.
The uniforms also included a patch in the shape of a heart with a No. 2 in it — a tribute to Bryant's late daughter, Gianna, who wore the number at the Mamba Sports Academy.
Early in the game there was a special moment in which the Lakers hit a shot to make the score 24-8.
"When I looked up and saw we were up 24-8, I was like, okay, he's here in the building," James said in a postgame interview of the emotional highlight.
"It’s a beautiful, beautiful night for our franchise and something we will always remember — this moment," he added.
James, 35, said he felt "a wide range of emotions" during the tribute game.
"[I am] extremely blessed and honored to be able to play on 8/24 and continue to remember Kobe Bryant and Gigi Bryant and all the fallen people that were a part of that tragic incident," he shared.
The game — which was played one day after what would have been Bryant's 42nd birthday — was an emotional experience for the entire team, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, per ESPN.
"The emotional aspect did feel different than any other game we played since we've been in the bubble," Vogel said. "Obviously Kobe is dearly missed. To have a game on 8/24, Kobe Bryant Day, all of us in our whole organization, but particularly our players, felt that and carried that emotion onto the playing court."
James added, "To go out there one day removed from his birthday and then his day of 8/24, to be able to have a game on this day, the stars aligned."
Bryant died on Jan. 26 in a tragic helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others — Payton Chester, 13, Sarah Chester, 46, Alyssa Altobelli, 14, Keri Altobelli, 46, John Altobelli, 56, Christina Mauser, 38, and pilot Ara Zobayan, 50.
The basketball legend played for the Lakers for his entire 20-year career. He made his debut with the team in 1996 after being drafted straight out of high school.
Nike began selling special edition versions of the Black Mamba jersey on Aug. 24 through its website. These versions feature Bryant's No. 8 on the front and No. 24 on the back — a change from the first time it was released.
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