On Feb. 16, teams led by superstars LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will go head-to-head in the NBA’s All-Star Game, which has been completely overhauled this year in order to honor the life and legacy of five-time champion Kobe Bryant.
ESPN reports that the league reached out to LeBron in the weeks leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend and revealed its plans to have one team wear No. 24 in honor of Kobe and the other wear No. 2 in honor of his daughter, Gianna.
“They asked me which number did I want to wear, the 24 or 2 for my team,” the Akron, Ohio, native said on Monday. “And I picked 2.”
And his reasoning for deciding to wear Gianna’s jersey number instead of his good friend Kobe’s?
“Zhuri,” LeBron said.
While most of us remember Kobe as a terrifying force on the basketball court, his recent years have been devoted to being a loving husband and father to his four daughters. We saw glimpses of that side of Kobe as he sat courtside with Gianna at various basketball games, but ESPN’s Elle Duncan turned it into a viral moment when she shared her story on-air about a conversation she had with the Black Mamba while she was pregnant.
In following Bryant’s pride in being a “girl dad,” fathers throughout the world took to social media to honor Kobe while celebrating their own roles in their daughters’ lives.
It was a beautiful moment not lost on LeBron or the rest of the Lakers organization.
“It felt like these last three years were the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” he said. “I think we all can say that. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, being able to just be with his daughters, be with his family.”
He added, “To see him these last three years just being [...] y’all see ‘girldad,’ the hashtag. I’m a girl dad. My brother right here [Lakers center Anthony Davis] is a girl dad.”
So what better way to honor Kobe’s commitment to fatherhood, and LeBron’s own daughter, Zhuri, than to wear Gianna’s jersey number?
In the aftermath of Kobe’s death, LeBron admitted that “every game is going to be emotional” moving forward. And it looks like the NBA All-Star Game will be no different.