Kyrie Irving in tears as the Brooklyn Nets honour Kobe and Gianna Bryant

Kyrie Irving was in tears as the Brooklyn Nets paid their tribute to Kobe Bryant (NBA TV)

Kyrie Irving was in tears as the Brooklyn Nets paid tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant before their match against the Detroit Pistons.

Irving was a close friend of Bryant and considered the 41-year-old as a mentor for a large part of his career.

Following Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, Irving pulled out of the Nets’ game against the New York Knicks later that day and left Madison Square Garden after hearing the news.

‘I think [he is] tremendously affected,’ Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said on Tuesday.

‘I don’t want to speak for him, I think he was closer to Kobe than people realise.

‘I’ll let him speak on that eventually. Very, very affected.

‘[He] competed his tail off in practice and was really good. But you can see, he’s obviously still affected.’

Kyrie Irving made his return for the Brooklyn Nets after Kobe Bryant’s death (Getty Images)

Irving made his return on Wednesday evening as the Nets hosted the Pistons at the Barclays Center.

And the Nets paid a special tribute to Bryant as they left two courtside seats free and placed bouquets of purple and yellow flowers on them.

The two front-row seats left free were the same ones Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna sat in during the Nets’ game against the Atlanta Hawks earlier this season.

Irving, meanwhile, was in tears during the national anthem as the tribute began for Bryant.


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