LOS ANGELES — On his way to Staples Center on Friday afternoon, LeBron James explained to his wife one lesson he’d gleaned from observing Kobe Bryant.
“You know what’s crazy?” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“All the success he had, five rings, MVPs, All-Star Game MVPs, first-team everything,” he said Friday night. “Yet I felt like the last three years was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.”
For most of us, Kobe’s contentment in spending time with his family in retirement was part of the tragedy of his shocking death in a helicopter crash six days ago. He had so much left to give as a father of four daughters, an entrepreneur and a storyteller.
For LeBron, Kobe’s post-basketball joy was also a bit eye-opening. It made him wonder if he’s right to keep pursuing basketball immortality at the expense of time around his wife and three kids. It forced him to consider that he’s not guaranteed to live to old age and have decades to put his family first in retirement.
“When we’re playing this game of basketball, we give so much to it,” LeBron said late Friday night during an introspective news conference following the Lakers’ first game since Kobe’s death. “We give so much to it that unfortunately your family goes to the wayside at times. When you want to be great at something and you want to be the best at something, you become so driven that you won’t let nothing stand in the way of that, not even your own family at times.”
LeBron and high school sweetheart Savannah have been married since 2013. Their eldest son Bronny, 15, is already a promising basketball prospect whose fame is rising. Younger son Bryce, 12, also plays basketball, while daughter Zhuri, 5, already has her own YouTube channel.
Though LeBron tries to keep his family life private, his support of Bronny’s basketball ambitions has spilled out into the public sphere the past few years. Cameras caught LeBron jumping out of his courtside seat with a smile Tuesday night after Bronny soared for an alley-oop slam. LeBron famously also jumped into the layup line and threw down a dunk of his own before one of Bronny’s AAU games last July.
The relationship between LeBron and Bronny mirrors that of Kobe and his late daughter, Gianna, a fact that no doubt is not lost on the Lakers superstar. In 2018, Kobe described Gianna as “hellbent” on playing basketball at UConn and hopeful of one day reaching the WNBA. They often attended NBA games together and were on their way to a basketball tournament last Sunday when their helicopter crashed.
With the Lakers organization in shock and all of Los Angeles in mourning, LeBron has displayed tremendous leadership this week. He struck all the right notes in a four-minute pregame speech to the crowd before Friday night’s loss to Portland and then again in his postgame message to reporters.
“Make sure you hug the s--- out of your family,” LeBron said. “If you’ve got kids, tell your kids you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can and don’t feel bad if you have to sacrifice your job to go to one of your loved ones’ events.”
LeBron concluded his monologue by recalling his decision to go watch Bronny play a game in Springfield, Massachusetts, earlier this month. That’s a decision LeBron would make again even though he received criticism after the Lakers lost by 32 points that same night in Boston.
Said LeBron: “We had a game that night and we got our ass kicked. I didn’t feel bad at all.”
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