LOS ANGELES (AP/CNN) - Kobe Bryant’s wife offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter at a sold-out memorial service for the two.
They were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.
Nearly everything about what would happen at Kobe Bryant’s memorial was a mystery to nearly everyone watching, and Beyoncé's opening songs made it clear no ordinary memorial was to follow.
Christina Aguilera’s singing of “Ave Maria” reflected Bryant’s Italian upbringing and Catholic faith.
Alicia Keys played Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” because it was a song Bryant once learned for his wife Vanessa, whose joint eulogy for her husband and 13-year-old daughter reduced many in the audience to tears.
Bryant’s best friend Rob Pelinka told of the Mamba’s final moments and mentorship, and Shaquille O’Neal told profane tales of when Bryant was his young sidekick.
Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband’s devotion as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Center. That’s the downtown arena where Bryant played for the Lakers for 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.
A host of NBA greats past and present were mourning at the public memorial: Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Pau Gasol and Steph Curry.
The memorial began with Beyonce singing her hits “XO” and “Halo.”
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel spoke first.
He also introduced Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, who received a rousing cheer from the crowd.
Vanessa thanked the crowd for coming, saying she’s received an outpouring of love. Vanessa described him as a loving husband and devoted father with a tender heart who was “the MVP of girl dads.”
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together," she said.
Vanessa said that her and Bryant are “still the best team.”
An emotional Kimmel says that the world could be “grateful for the time we had with them.”
WNBA great Diana Taurasi has told the crowd at Kobe Bryant’s public memorial that watching the Lakers star play inspired her. Bryant, who was known as the “Black Mamba,” nicknamed Taurasi the “White Mamba.” Taurasi says Bryant had a competitive fire that ran through his veins and a willingness to work hard.
College basketball star Sabrina Ionescu says at a public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna that the 13-year-old had a better fadeaway jump shot than she does. The Oregon Ducks point guard and all-time NCAA leader with 25 triple-doubles said Monday that Gianna represented the future of the WNBA. Ionescu called the teen “a sun just starting to rise.”
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach says he came to the public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna as a father, not as a basketball coach. Geno Auriemma described to the Staples Center audience Monday the excitement that 13-year-old Gianna showed while visiting UConn, where she had hoped to one day play basketball.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said Kobe’s last texts to him came shortly before a helicopter crash killed the NBA superstar and eight others. Pelinka said Monday at a public memorial that Bryant wanted his help to secure an internship for a daughter of his friend who also died in the crash. He says Bryant wanted to “use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.” Pelinka described how Bryant accomplished whatever he set his mind to, including learning to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on piano.
Then he introduced Alicia Keys, who performed a version of the sonata.
Tears streaming down his face, NBA legend Michael Jordan said at a public memorial that he thought of Kobe Bryant as a little brother. Jordan joked Monday that like little brothers, the younger Bryant peppered him with questions about what to expect as his career with the Los Angeles Lakers started taking off. Jordan got laughs from the crowd at the Staples Center. He said he received calls from Bryant at all hours, eager to talk about the game, business and family. Jordan said that Bryant was eager to become the best basketball player, and it made him want to be the best big brother he could be. Jordan said that “when Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died.” He said Monday at the Staples Center that a piece of everyone in the crowd died as well. He urged people to use the inspiration of Bryant’s life for their own. Jordan said once when he made a visit to the Lakers locker room, Kobe asked him, “Did you bring your shoes?” Jordan said it was just a social call, but Bryant was ready for one-on-one.
NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal said he and his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant had a complex relationship but that they always respected each other and never took things too seriously. O’Neal spoke at a public memorial Monday for Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others killed in a helicopter crash last month. He recalled an early conflict with Bryant, who wasn’t passing as much as O’Neal would’ve liked. O’Neal said he told Kobe: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Kobe responded: “Yeah, but there’s a ‘M-E,’” followed by an expletive. The crowd roared with laughter.
A selection from the short film “Dear Basketball” that won Kobe Bryant an Academy Award played on the big screens at Staples Center to wrap up a public memorial for the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar. He won a 2018 Oscar in the animated short category for the film based on a poem he wrote after ending his 20-year career basketball career in 2016.
The memorial for Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others who died in a helicopter crash last month featured heartfelt stories from Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal and other friends in the basketball community.
The celebration of life featured music and retrospectives on Bryant’s career, along with speakers reflecting on his impact on his sport and the world. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after his career ended in 2016. Fans were given the opportunity to say goodbye to one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
“He inspired a whole generation of young athletes,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said.
“I grew up watching him play you know. He’s a part of a lot of our lives. He’s a special person,” a fan said.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were laid to rest during a private memorial service earlier this month in Corona del Mar, Calif.
Bryant spent his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers, much of that time playing at the Staples Center.
Tickets for today’s services ranged from $24.02 to $224. Those price points, along with today’s date, are in honor of the No. 24 jersey Bryant wore the latter part of his career and the No. 2 jersey Gianna wore in youth basketball.
Bryant is so synonymous with Los Angeles, he has a day honoring him.
That passion for the game is something Bryant shared with Gianna, or Gigi as she was known.
“Coaching the kids is fun because my daughter just decided she wanted to play two and a half years ago. It’s fun to sit there watching them hoop,” Bryant said.
The six passengers traveling with Bryant and his daughter in the helicopter that crashed into a Southern California mountainside last month were joined by their love of basketball. Among them, two teammates of Bryant’s 13-old-daughter, a coach with a rising profile in girls’ basketball and three parents of basketball-crazed children. Their pilot, who was taking them to a basketball tournament, was a veteran flier whose friends and customers said was exactly the guy a passenger would want at the controls.