KOBE BRYANT 1978-2020

LeBron James on Kobe Bryant: These last three years were the happiest I've ever seen him

Kobe Bryant relished retirement from the NBA as it allowed him to dedicate time to his family, according to LeBron James.

LeBron James on Kobe Bryant: These last three years were the happiest I've ever seen him

LeBron James feels Kobe Bryant was the happiest he had ever been following his retirement from basketball, as it allowed him to devote time to his family.

Bryant ended his 20-year NBA career in 2016 at the age of 38, having won five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was also named the league's MVP in 2008 and was an 18-time All-Star.

The Lakers legend spent much of his post-playing days with his wife and four children before his death on Sunday. The 41-year-old, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California.

James pays tribute to Bryant in emotional pre-game speech

James gave an emotional speech inside the Staples Center on Friday prior to tip-off in the team's first game since Bryant's death, describing him as a "brother".

The 35-year-old knows all too well the sacrifices that have to be made to reach the top in professional sport, as he explained to the media after the 127-119 defeat against the Portland Trail Blazers.

"These last three years, out of all the success he had – five rings, multiple MVPs, All-Star Game MVP of this league, first team for all-life, all-world, all-basketball – felt like these last three years were the happiest I've ever seen him," James said of Bryant.

"Being able to just be with his daughters, be with his family, because when we're playing this game of basketball, we give so much to it. This is my 17th year, so I know.

"Unfortunately, your family comes to the wayside at times, because when you want to be great at something, when you want to be the best at something, you become so driven that you won't let anything stand in the way of it. Not even your own family sometimes.

"We get compared all the time to greatness, and that makes us even more driven and shadowed away from our own family. That's the difficult part that we deal with as professional athletes and when you want to be great.

"To see him these last three years, and to see the #girldad these last few days, it just puts everything in perspective. Yes, it's a beautiful game, it's taken us all over the world and given us so many things that we can never ever complain about, or never be in another position to accomplish this, from you guys writing the stories to playing the game, we are all covering it all over the world.

"Just make sure you hug the s*** out of your family"

"But, at the end of the day, we all punch our clocks. Either we're done for the day, or done doing what we are doing, but just make sure you hug the s*** out of your family.

"If you've got kids, tell them you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can, and don't feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved one's events, or something like that, and sacrifice your job.

"I didn't feel bad in Boston when I went to go and see my son two hours away in Springfield and we [the Lakers] had a game that night and got our ass kicked. I didn't feel bad at all."