Following the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, LeBron James was seen tearing up at the first Lakers game since the tragedy. A camera focused on James as tears for his lost loved ones fell down his face as Boyz II Men sang the national anthem.

"Men should be emotional when something hits your heart," James told Sports Illustrated of the January 31 game. "When something feels a certain way, there's no reason you shouldn't be emotional about it. The emotion comes from, especially in this instance, somebody who has paved the way and done so many great things in our sport."

James explained that the grief for the late basketball legend was widespread.

"He's hit home for so many people and can relate to so many people," he said. "And people have personal relationships with him. And some people who don't [know him] were inspired by him. So just that level of emotion is just organic."

Newly minted Los Angeles Laker Danny Green acknowledges times have changed and it’s now more acceptable for men to be vulnerable.

"When I was younger, during those days, it was not cool to show emotions," Green said. "It's not manly, I guess. But now, it's a different time, a different generation. It's okay to show emotions. It doesn't make you any less of a man, less masculine or uncool."

Despite stereotypes that masculinity means not having emotions, professional athletes are changing the culture to be more accepting.

"They're showing the example that it's okay to let your emotions out and not keep them all hidden inside," said retired NBA star Mychal Thompson. "It doesn't make you less of a man to show in public your emotions. It shows you're a human."

John Callaghan, a retired professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California who has a Ph.D. in the sociopsychology of sport, also believes that there's not as much pressure on men to stifle their emotions. 

"For years and years, we had to refrain and restrain ourselves and it wasn't good to show what our inner feelings were like. We had to be manly and bottle everything up. Things have changed. Our society has changed," he said.

A greater understanding of mental health and the impact it has on our physical health and performance has opened up the door for these men, often seen as “manly,” to have discussions about their emotions, according to Callaghan.

"For too long, we didn't allow athletes to show their feelings," he said. "But now we realize the mental side of sports performance…If you bottle up so many of these issues, then you're actually impairing their mental health and mental development and that can have a disastrous effect upon their performance…The control of emotions and the display of emotions, when necessary, are all part of the mental health picture."

Many professional athletes were seen shedding tears while grieving their friend at the memorial service for Bryant and his young daughter on February 24 — most notably, Michael Jordan.

“Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends,” Jordan said. “But we were very close friends. Kobe was my dear friend. He was like a little brother.”

Jordan made light of the situation, joking that the internet would once again turn him into a meme.

“Now, he's got me and I'll have to look at another crying meme for the next …” he said as he let out a laugh. “I told my wife I wasn't gonna do this cause I didn't want to see that for the next three or four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”