Thousands of mourners gathered in Staples Center to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter were honoured in a two-hour public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The event included a public speech from Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, for the first time along with appearances from NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.
The Celebration of Life began with an appearance by singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter who sang a slowed-down version of her hit XO.
“I’m here because I love Kobe. This is one of his favourite songs,” she told the audience. “I want you to sing it so loud that he’ll hear your love.”
‘They were so easy to love’
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel then introduced Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gigi’s mother. She began her speech thanking the audience for their support.
“Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul. She was always thoughtful,” she said Bryant. “She was Daddy’s girl but I know she loved her Mama…she was one of my very best friends.”
Vanessa Bryant discussed how Gigi loved to bake, along with her passion for basketball. Both Kobe and Gianna were enthusiastic about teaching others new skills, especially when it came to athletics, said Bryant.
“We loved each other so much, I miss her so much,” continued Bryant. “I miss her cleverness, her sarcasm, her wit….Gigi was sunshine, she brightened up my day everyday. I miss looking at her beautiful face. I knew I could always count on her to do the right thing,” she said.
She told the audience how her daughter would have been an amazing mother, and was a major advocate for women’s advancement in sport.
“Gigi would have mostly likely become the best player in the WBNA. She would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball. Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women in sports,” she said.
Bryant then discussed how Kobe and her had been together since she was 17 years old and they had an “amazing love story.” Kobe and Gigi were a great pair in particular, she said.
“They were so easy to love. They were so full of joy and adventure. God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together,” said Bryant. “May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day.”
Other speakers included WNBA star Diana Taurasi, Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team and college basketball player Sabrina Ionescu. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s also spoke about Bryant’s final texts to him just before the helicopter crashed.
Michael Jordan calls Bryant a ‘little brother’
NBA legend Michael Jordan then spoke with tears running down his face, as he opened-up about how Bryant was like his “little brother”.
“He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be. And as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be,” he said. He said Bryant would call him late at night, with constant questions for Jordan.
“We talked about business, we talked about family. We talked about everything. He was just trying to be a better person,” he said. Jordan joked that the internet will make his tear-stained face into a meme, which has happened before.
“That is what Kobe Bryant does to me…he knows how to get to you in a way that effects you personally,” said Jordan. “He can bring out the best in you, and he did that for me….when Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who played with Kobe Bryant while he was with the Lakers in the early 2000s gave a speech that brought laughs from the audience as he discussed how he and Bryant didn’t always get along.
“Like immature kids, we argued. We fought, bantered or insulted each other with off-handed remarks,” he said. “Folks thought we were on bad terms, when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other.”
O’Neal also told the audience that he had to remind Bryant there’s no “I” in the word “team”. Bryant responded by saying: “Yeah, but there’s a ‘M-E'”, followed by an expletive to which the crowd laughed and cheered.
“Mamba, you were taken away from us too soon,” O’Neal continued. “But now it is time for us to continue your legacy….I’ll look after things down here. I’ll be sure to teach Natalia, Bianca and baby Capri all your moves.”
Both Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys took the stage after the memorial’s conclusion, followed by a screening of the Oscar-winning film “Dear Basketball”, about Bryant’s retirement from the NBA.
The money made from the memorial ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.
Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999.
A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.
— With files from The Associated Press