LeBron James leads heart-wrenching Lakers tribute to Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers have paid an emotional tribute to the iconic Kobe Bryant in the team's first game since his tragic death last week.

One of the greatest basketballers of all time, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were on a helicopter that crashed in the hills near Los Angeles on Sunday (NZT), killing all nine passengers.

Moments before tip-off against the Portland Trailblazers, Lakers superstar LeBron James addressed the crowd, tossing his cue cards aside in favour of speaking "from the heart".

"I've got something written down, they asked me to kind of stay on course, or whatever the case may be," James said. 

"But Laker Nation, I would be selling you short if I read off this sh*t, so I'm going to go straight from the heart.

"I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the everything, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as you could be.

“Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad you could have seen over the last three years.

"I want to continue, along with my teammates, his legacy. Not only for this year, but as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love, because that's what Kobe Bryant would want.

"So in the words of Kobe Bryant, 'Mamba Out' ... but in the words of us, 'Not forgotten.' Live on, brother."

Hours before tip-off, thousands of fans filled the promenade outside the Staples Centre, where dozens of makeshift shrines to Bryant have emerged. 

All of the Lakers players wore Bryant jerseys out for warm-ups, and each was introduced as Kobe Bryant by the in-arena announcer.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 31:  (L-R) Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Quinn Cook and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts at the end of the National Anthem during a ceremony to honor Kobe Bryant before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on January 31, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Popstar Usher sang a heart-wrenching rendition of 'Amazing Grace', followed by a tribute video while cellist Ben Hong provided a live soundtrack at centre court.

R'n'B group Boyz II Men sang an acapella version of the 'Star Spangled Banner', which moved several of the Lakers players to tears, including James.

There were two courtside seats reserved for Bryant and his daughter - herself a promising basketballer - each covered in their jerseys and adorned with bouquets of roses.

During the halftime break, Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa performed their hit 'See You Again' while another tribute video played.

The Lakers added a commemorative 'KB' logo to their jerseys, while every member of the crowd was given a commemorative shirt with an '8' or '24- one of Kobe's two playing numbers.

Bryant helped the Lakers to five NBA titles during his 20-year tenure with the franchise. He retired in 2016 as the team's all-time leader in points, steals and games played.

Last week, the NBA postponed the Lakers' game against the Clippers "out of respect for the Lakers organisation".

Unfortunately for the LA fiathful, the Lakers weren't able to cap off the occasion with a win. Portland's Dame Lillard caught fire, pouring in 48 points with 10 assists and nine boards to lead his side to a 127-119 win.

Anthony Davis was the star for the hosts with 37 points and 15 rebounds, while James added 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds on a night where the game itsef was clearly - and rightfully - of secondary concern.