LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers' first game since Kobe Bryant's death was the second-most watched regular-season NBA game on ESPN.
The game against the Portland Trail Blazers averaged 4.41 million viewers.
The only telecast to surpass that since ESPN resumed NBA coverage in 2002 was a January 2003 game between the Lakers and Houston Rockets that featured the first matchup between Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming.
The pregame ceremony featured a performance of 'Amazing Grace' by Usher, the national anthem by Boyz II Men, and a video tribute to Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people killed in a helicopter crash last Sunday.
One especially emotional moment during the pregame was when LeBron James took the mic.
The four-time MVP, now in his second year as a member of the Lakers, decided to discard the prepared text he had written down.
"Laker Nation, I'll be selling you all short if I read off this shit, so I'm going to go straight from the heart," the Akron native said. And so he did.
"I know at some point we will have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years of blood, sweat, tears, broken down body, the countless hours the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38, and became probably the best dad we've seen over the last three years," LeBron said, fighting through the tears.
At the end of the speech, James said "In the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on brother."
According to Nielsen, the Bryant pregame ceremony averaged 5.23 million viewers.