NBA: LeBron James posts emotional tribute to late friend Kobe Bryant

LeBron James has posted an emotional tribute to fellow NBA great Kobe Bryant after his death.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar took to Instagram to express his feelings, after Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles hills on Monday (NZ time).

"I'm not ready, but here I go," James wrote. "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!!

"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!!

"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!!"

Just two days earlier, James had passed Bryant for third among the NBA's all-time leading pointscorers.

Meanwhile, the NBA's pre-game tributes to Bryant continued on Tuesday.

After the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns sent the opening tip against the Sacramento Kings to teammate Andrew Wiggins, the forward placed the ball on the free-throw line, as the team took an eight-second violation.

In 2014, Bryant made two free throws to pass Michael Jordan for third on the scoring list.

In Detroit, the Pistons opened the first game of the day by taking the floor during warm-ups in jerseys with 8 and 24 on them - the two numbers Bryant played in - and the name "BRYANT" on the back.

After wearing them during 24 seconds of silence, the teams traded 24 and eight-second violations to start the game, as other teams had done on Sunday, after learning of Bryant's death.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Larry Nance Jr, a teammate with Bryant as a rookie in 2015-16, could been seen with tears in his eyes, while sitting on the bench after the violations.

In Chicago, the Bulls took an eight-second violation to start the game and San Antonio returned the favour by taking a 24-second violation.

Dallas and Oklahoma City did the same in OKC, as did Orlando and hosts Miami.

Also, Chris Paul sat out for the Thunder, as he mourned the loss of Bryant. His absence, officially cited as personal reasons by the team, was his first missed game of the season.

Paul and Bryant grew close, while playing on two Olympic teams together.