Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and Charles Barkley were united in grief on Tuesday as NBA legends gathered at an empty Los Angeles' Staples Center to mourn Kobe Bryant.
Superstars openly wept while sitting around centre court as they watched an hour-long televised tribute to Los Angeles Lakers legend Bryant, who died Sunday age 41 in a helicopter crash along with his teenage daughter Gianna and seven others.
"Haven't felt a pain that sharp in a while," said O'Neal, a teammate of Bryant on three championship teams. "It was sort of like a triple stabbing to the heart.
"The fact we lost probably the world's greatest Laker, the world's greatest basketball player, it's going to be hard to get over it."
The league postponed the Lakers' match against city rivals Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday as the basketball world came to grips with news of Bryant's death.
His death has inspired heartbroken fans to build a shrine of items outside the Staples Center arena to honor Bryant.
"This is a sad city right now," said West, the 81-year-old former Lakers guard and executive who brought Bryant to LA at 17 and played a fatherly role.
"Saddest day of my life. I don't know if I can get over this. I really don't."
Former Miami star guard Wade, who idolised Bryant even as he played against him, struggled to cope.
"I've been in shock for two days and this is the first moment where it feels real. I'm shaking. I'm numb," Wade said.
The conversation became therapy for sad players and NBA fans, O'Neal at times in tears over words he longed to tell Bryant but never will.
"It just makes me think that in life, instead of holding back certain things, we should just do," O'Neal said.
"It definitely changes me. I just have to take time to call and say I love you. I'm going to try and do a better job of talking to people instead of procrastinating."
Former power forward Barkley learnt of Bryant's death only after checking his phone after watching a movie at the cinema to see more than 70 missed calls and over 100 text messages.
"I clicked on CNN and I started crying. I'm not going to lie. I just started crying," Barkley recalled. "He was part of my basketball fabric ... he was like one of my kids. I just felt pain.
"I just feel sad. That's all I can say. I felt like I lost a part of my family ... it was an honor to watch him play."