A celebration of Michael Jackson's career became the central focus of Sunday night's BET Awards, as superstars from host Jamie Foxx to NBA MVP LeBron James paid tribute to the late King of Pop.

As the first major celebrity event since Jackson's death on Thursday, the BET Awards took on a whole new relevance and was completely revamped over the weekend. "The media out there is doing a number on [Michael Jackson]," Foxx told the audience. "This is our only chance to represent what it's really about -- the music."

>> PHOTOS: 2009 BET Awards >> VIDEO: Janet Jackson speaks at BET Awards

Janet Jackson, visibly shaken, paused to try to gather herself, and then said her family elected her to speak for them. "My entire family wanted to be here tonight, but it was just too painful," she told a crowd that included her father, Joe, and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"To you, Michael is an icon," she said. "To us, Michael is family and he will forever live in all of our hearts. ... Thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much."


It was a night of tributes, both in big production numbers and in subtler ways. It was hard to miss Foxx recreating the choreography from the "Beat It" video, complete with the red, studded leather jacket, or the reunited New Edition opening the show with a Jackson 5 medley of "I Want You Back," "ABC" and "The Love You Save."

Estelle wore a single white glove, "Soul Train" host Don Cornelius called Jackson "immortal" and Jay-Z closed his killer version of "D.O.A." by saying "Rest in peace to the King."

"No need to be sad -- we want to celebrate this black man," Foxx said. "He belongs to us and we shared him with everybody else. ... It didn't make a difference what he looked like. It matters what he sounded like."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"We all know none of us in this room would be here without Michael Jackson," said rapper Lil Wayne, accepting an award for best hip-hop male artist.

Jackson was on the minds of celebrities as they walked the red carpet as well. "I remember as a kid thinking when I saw him on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' ... all of a sudden we had little black kids that were articulate, that could sing, that could play instruments, that were beautiful to look at," said Arsenio Hall. "That's kind of like our Kennedy family."

>> PHOTOS: 2009 BET Awards >> VIDEO: Janet Jackson speaks at BET Awards