- 20,000 fans flocked to the arena to pay tribute to the basketball star and his 13-year-old daughter
- Kobe, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on January 26
- Staples Center sold out for the memorial benefiting Kobe’s Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation
- Beyonce opened the service performing her hit XO – which she said was one of Bryant’s favorite songs – followed by Halo
- Late night host Jimmy Kimmel took the stage and gave a short speech before introducing Vanessa Bryant
- Vanessa tearfully described her ‘baby girl’ Gianna and her ‘soulmate’ Kobe
Twenty thousand mourners flocked to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Monday to say their goodbyes to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
The Celebration of Life honoring the basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter drew fans from across the country to the Southern California city almost a month after they were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26.
Beyonce opened the public memorial by performing her hit XO – which she said was one of Bryant’s favorite songs – followed by Halo.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel then took the stage and gave a short speech before introducing Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother.
Vanessa thanked the audience for coming before paying tribute to her ‘baby girl’ Gianna and her ‘soulmate’ Kobe as she fought back tears.
‘She was daddy’s girl but I know she loved her mama,’ Vanessa said. ‘She was one of my very best friends.’
She described Gianna as a doting daughter who took after both of her parents with her ‘infectious smile’ and her ‘incredible’ athleticism.
She teared up as she spoke about how she would never get to witness Gianna’s wedding day or see her change the face of basketball.
Vanessa then shifted to her ‘soulmate’ Kobe. She called him ‘the best girl dad’ who taught their four daughters ‘how to be brave and keep pushing forward when things get tough’.
‘I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband and father he was,’ she said. ‘The kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes.
‘I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player. He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was my — he was my everything.’
Staples Center sold out for the memorial, and the money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in under-served communities and teaches sports to girls and women.
Vanessa chose February 24 as the date for the memorial in honor of the pair’s uniform numbers.
Kobe wore number 24 for most of his career and Gianna wore number 2 on her youth basketball teams.
Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage.
One of the first speakers to take the stage was WNBA great Diana Taurasi, who Kobe nicknamed ‘White Mamba’, in reference to his own nickname ‘Black Mamba’.
She told the crowd how watching the Lakers star play inspired her, and praised the competitive fire that ran through Kobe’s veins.
Taurasi also praised Gianna, saying that she ‘in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball: a future where a young woman aspires to play in the WNBA the same way I wanted to be Laker’.
‘Gigi already had goals to play for UConn — that in itself showed her fearless mentality,’ Taurasi said.
‘We promise to carry Gigi’s legacy.’
Next on the mic was Sabrina Ionescu, a basketball player at the University of Oregon who was mentored by Kobe and later became a mentor to Gianna, whom she called ‘the future’ of women’s basketball.
‘She always wanted to learn, to go to every came she could — college, NBA, WNBA,’ Ionescu said.
‘Kobe was helping with that because he saw it in her. Just like he saw it in me.’
She recalled how Kobe would text her and check up on her, giving both her and Gianna the ‘blueprint’ for future success.
‘Through Gigi, through me, through his investment in women’s basketball – that was his next great act,’ she said.
Fans began lining up outside the arena early Monday morning, many of them eager to share what Kobe meant to them.
Alyssa Shapiro told the Associated Press she was inspired to become a basketball player after watching countless Lakers games with her father, Rick Shapiro.
The family’s love of the game and Kobe’s work in women’s sports prompted Alyssa to become a middle school girls’ basketball coach.
Her team played Gianna’s team, and she fondly remembered watching Kobe cheer for his daughter from the stands.
Alyssa, who brought two homemade heart-shaped ‘Kobe’ and ‘Gianna’ signs to the memorial, said she ‘just wanted to thank him for being such an inspiration to me’.
Another fan, 72-year-old Bob Melendez, who’s held Lakers season tickets for 40 years, said he couldn’t imagine missing Monday’s memorial after watching Kobe throughout his career.
Melendez was joined by his friend Tom Ling, who said he couldn’t believe it when heard about Kobe’s death.
Kobe played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999.
The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before the deadly helicopter crash.
Kobe death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement.
Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.
A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna in Orange County on February 7.
While Monday’s ceremony was broadcast internationally, the event was an undeniable celebration of Los Angeles and what Bryant brought to the city.
Of course, LA has no shortage of sports heroes.
Among the 20,000 or so locals packed into Staples Center on Monday to pay respects were Lakers legends Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, Shaquille O’Neal, and even Phil Jackson who coached Bryant on five championship teams in L.A.
And that doesn’t include the 20 Baseball Hall of Famers who played for the Dodgers, Los Angeles Rams legend Eric Dickerson, boxing great Oscar De La Hoya, or Wayne Gretzky, the former Kings star considered by many to be the greatest hockey player ever.
But while others had similar levels of success in L.A., such as retired Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, nobody seemed to capture the locals’ imagination like Bryant.
Even before Bryant’s death, murals of the 6-foot-7 shooting guard dotted the greater Los Angeles area.
And when the Lakers added LeBron James in the summer of 2018, vandals defaced a mural of the team’s new star several times out of some apparent misguided loyalty to Bryant.
Eventually the artist whitewashed the mural after several incidents, which served as a reminder that Bryant remains the fans’ greatest love.
Like Magic and Kareem, Bryant won five titles with the Lakers, the first three of which came alongside his friend and rival O’Neal.
Things were peaceful between the two at the time of Bryant’s death, but fans will remember their turbulent partnership that faltered as a young Kobe harangued Shaq about his conditioning.
Eventually O’Neal was dealt to Miami, where he won a title with Dwyane Wade, but that move paved the way for Bryant to immortalize himself in Los Angeles.
With the additions of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the latter of whom came in the trade for O’Neal, the Lakers were re-loaded. And after losing to the rival Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant’s Lakers won back-to-back titles the next two years, cementing him as one of the greatest players in league history.
The remainder of Bryant’s career was tarnished by injuries, such as the Achilles tendon he tore in 2013 at age 34. (He stayed in the game to make two free throws after suffering the injury)
But Bryant’s farewell may have been his greatest moment, scoring 60 points in a win over Utah in the final game of his career.
‘All I can do here is thank you guys,’ Bryant told the home crowd afterwards. ‘Thank you guys for all the years of support. Thank you guys for all the motivation. Thank you for all the inspiration.’
That night at Staples Center, Lakers fans paid respects with full-throated chants of ‘Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’
They did so again on Monday in that same arena, only this time, they weren’t saying goodbye to Bryant the player. They were giving their farewell to the man, his daughter Gianna, and the seven others who died tragically on that foggy morning in the hills of Calabasas.
FROM HIGH SCHOOL PHENOM TO NBA LEGEND: THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF LAKERS GREAT KOBE BRYANT
The tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in southern California on January 26 marked an abrupt ending to one of most indelible public lives in modern American history.
Bryant will certainly be remembered for his accomplishments, such as his five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, two Olympic gold medals, and for scoring more points than all but three players in league history. (He was actually overtaken by LeBron James days before the fatal crash)
But Bryant’s most memorable quality was his unwavering self confidence.
He jumped straight from a Philadelphia high school to the NBA Draft at 17, forgoing college at a time when predominant wisdom dictated that prospects develop their game at the NCAA level. And although he couldn’t even vote when his NBA career began in 1996, he refused to kowtow to his veteran teammates, famously feuding with Shaquille O’Neal over the All-Star center’s conditioning and dedication.
‘I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,’ James told reporters of Bryant after surpassing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. ‘There’s no substitution for work.’
Even at the end of his career, when a battered 37-year-old Bryant and the Lakers finished just 17-65, the 18-time All-Star gave a fitting farewell, dominating the Utah Jazz in his final game while scoring 60 points — the most by any player in the NBA that season.
Bryant’s self-assuredness continued into his post-playing career.
In addition to his vast endorsement deals, Kobe established his own sports brand, Kobe Inc., and saw his share in the business get a reported $200 million valuation in 2018.
That same year he produced an animated short film, ‘Dear Basketball,’ that ultimately won an Oscar and a Sports Emmy – two of the innumerable awards that found their way to Bryant.
‘They’re at the top for me,’ Bryant told USA Today of the honors. ‘It’s not something that was expected. As a kid, you kind of have the goal of winning championships and all these sorts of things. Being in the industry that I’m in now? It wasn’t something that was thought of me winning an Oscar.’
‘Kobe was not only an icon in the sports arena, he was a man of the world and touched so many lives and communities in the most positive ways,’ said Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
‘His star was continuing to rise every day and he knew no limits because of his many intellectual and creative talents and desire to give back to others – his passion for the game, for his family and for others was apparent in everything he accomplished.’
Naturally, Bryant did not have any humble origins.
Born in Philadelphia to 76ers forward Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant and Pamela Cox, the sister of another NBA player, Kobe’s life was inextricably linked to basketball, and not just in the United States.
After a solid eight-year NBA career, Joe moved the family to Italy when Kobe was just six to continue playing professionally.
It was there that Bryant learned to speak Italian fluently, scoured the NBA highlight videos his grandfather sent him from the U.S., and rooted for his father’s teammate, current Houston Rockets and former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
Throughout it all, basketball remained a constant in Bryant’s life.
His family moved back to Philadelphia at the end of his father’s basketball career. The younger Bryant attended Lower Merion High School, where his jersey is now retired, and by his senior year had become a national sensation.
The Lakers traded star center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for a Bryant’s draft rights in 1996, and the budding superstar rewarded Los Angeles by winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award as a rookie.
Bryant was a starter by his second season, and when coach Phil Jackson brought the famous triangle offense to the Lakers in 1999, Los Angeles came back to prominence, winning three consecutive titles.
Even after the team traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat, the Lakers re-loaded with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, helping Bryant to win another two NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.
But Bryant’s life had its valleys along with its peaks.
He suffered an Achilles tendon injury at 34 that more or less ended his days as an elite NBA player.
More infamously, Bryant was accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a 19-year-old woman working at a Colorado resort, where he was recovering from surgery. Bryant claimed the sex was consensual and prosecutors dropped the charges at the request of the accuser after a reported deal was struck.
The incident became tabloid fodder as Bryant gave his wife Vanessa a ring reportedly worth $4 million as an apology.
But Bryant still managed to repair his image, and even became known as doting father to his four daughters.
In fact, Bryant was on his way to see daughter Gianna play basketball when the helicopter crashed, killing her, a teammate and a parent. (Bryant’s other three children and wife were not on the helicopter)
The cause of the crash is still unknown, as the helicopter was reportedly not equipped with a black box, but weather was foggy that day and most air traffic was grounded.
What was readily apparent after the crash, however, was the impact that Bryant had on his fans, particularly those in Los Angeles.
Mourners wearing Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys began assembling on Sunday evening outside Staples Center, where the Grammy Awards were being held.
Bryant’s image already dotted many of the murals throughout the city, but hundreds more have been painted around the world in the weeks that followed his death.
Even James felt compelled to honor Bryant days as he surpassed him on the all-time scoring list days before the crash. Referencing his nickname, James wrote ‘Mamba 4 Life’ and ‘8/24 KB’ on his sneakers.
‘It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,’ James told reporters in Bryant’s home town of Philadelphia on January 25. ‘Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration.
‘It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So, just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling.’
James is just one of the people that Bryant inspired, and judging by the outpouring of sorrow on the streets of Los Angeles, he is in considerable company.
‘Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,’ Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said: ‘The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
‘For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.
‘He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.
‘We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization and the entire sports world.’