Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving vowed to "continue to carry the torch" following the death of his close friend and mentor Kobe Bryant.
Irving sat out the Nets' 110-97 defeat to New York Knicks at the weekend to grieve the loss of NBA great Bryant, who was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday.
The 27-year-old returned to the court on Wednesday and posted 20 points, five rebounds and five assists as the Nets prevailed 125-115 against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center.
After inspiring his side to victory, Irving paid a tearful tribute to Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the other people that tragically died.
"It's just hard to even conjure up the words," he told ESPN. "You try to find a clear-cut message that you would send to Gigi and Kobe and everybody that lost their lives in such a tragedy like that. It's hard, you know. It's hard
"I've been trying to do this the last few days, just trying to getting ready for a moment like this. But I just gotta let it be, let it flow. I know he's there watching, as well as Gigi, as well as the young ballplayers that were on the plane.
"I was just with them at the Mamba Academy working out with them in the summertime, as well. Those young girls losing their lives. So it's heartbreaking for all of us. But I'm not the only one dealing with something.
"I think the most beautiful thing is that it's connecting all of us. And his seeds that he's planted in all of us will continue to grow. his legacy is gonna live on forever, obviously.
"That man was a philosopher. He was a teacher. He left so many great things here for us to follow, and I’m just gonna continue to carry the torch."
The Nets paid a pre-game tribute that included a two-minute video, while two courtside seats were left vacant for Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
Irving was visibly emotional before the match and pointed to the sky as he left the court late in the fourth.
"Out there on the court, I am not the only one that is hurting," he told reporters post-game.
"I don't want to make this about me and just our relationship because we all shared something really, really strong with him.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I had that mentorship relationship with him, where I was able to ask him almost anything.
"You know no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was, he was just easy to approach with those type of questions.
"The ones about what goes on in the day-in and day-out basis of chasing something that's bigger than yourself and when you're trying to leave a legacy or something of a mark on a game."