LOS ANGELES – For the past month, LeBron James has wrestled with grief over the loss of his boyhood idol.
The Los Angeles Lakers star has mentioned several times how difficult it has been for him. So difficult that it is possible James did not attend Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial Monday at Staples Center.
“I respect your question for sure, but it’s very emotional,” James said on Tuesday. “A very emotional day. A very tough day for myself, for my family, for everyone involved.”
Some viewers were left wondering if James was in attendance because he didn't appear during the 2½-hour ceremony. Of course, that doesn't mean he wasn't there, watching from an undisclosed location.
James' agent Rich Paul did not return a text message USA TODAY Sports sent Monday asking for confirmation of James' attendance.
Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and former and current Lakers Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma were among one of the largest collections of basketball talent ever who attended.
Vanessa Bryant spoke about her late husband and 13-year-old daughter in a moving ceremony that also included remembrances from WNBA MVP and three-time champion Diana Taurasi, the top current college woman’s basketball player, Sabrina Ionescu, six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan, the Lakers’ general manager and Bryant's former agent, Rob Pelinka, and four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal.
“One thing I can come out of it saying is how strong and how bold and how powerful Vanessa is,” James said Tuesday. “To stand up there the way she did, to give that speech the way she gave that speech. I commend her.
"My heart his with their family still. With his three daughters that are still here. With his wife. With his mom and dad and his sisters. It was just a very difficult day. Obviously, it was a celebration but it was a difficult day for all of us.”
Story continues below video:
SportsPulse: Thousands upon thousands gathered in Los Angeles at the Staples Center to memorialize Kobe and Gianna Bryant. The service had everything from laughs to heartfelt moments.
Like Bryant, James entered the NBA out of high school. He grew up admiring him and hoping to follow a similar path. They played for Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Hours before Bryant's death, James passed him on the NBA's all-time scoring list and Bryant called him to congratulate him. Bryant's last tweet was about the record: "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644"
Five days after Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, James addressed the Staples Center crowd before a Lakers’ home game against Portland. Afterward, he spoke in-depth about what Bryant meant to him as an idol, opponent and friend.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have some fun during the 2013 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
“It’s never going to be a closure,” James said. “We continue to live on his legacy and continue to have our hearts heavy with both sadness and with happiness for his family that are still here.”
Since the NBA All-Star break last week in Chicago, though, James has fielded questions about Bryant before asking reporters to talk about basketball.
"It's been a celebration ever since we got the horrific news about his life and what he means to the game. But I don’t want to keep going back on it," James said Sunday. "I think it's unfair and unjust to his family as they're trying to move on and we're all trying to move on, but also know that he's with us.
"His jersey is sitting in my locker right now. But it just puts me in a difficult mind state if I continue to harp on it, if you can respect that."
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