Kobe Bryant’s wife offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter Monday at a sold-out memorial service for the two, who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.
Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband’s devotion as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Center to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Vanessa Bryant said. “He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
The service took place at the downtown arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.
The ceremony began with Beyonce performing her songs “XO” and “Halo” with dozens dozens of backup musicians. Alicia Keys performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” later in the program.
After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Vanessa Bryant remembered the family’s life with Gianna and her three siblings and then eulogized her husband. They had been together since 1999.
“He was the most amazing husband,” she said. “Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. I was fire. He was ice. Vice versa at times. … He was my everything.”
The mourners included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joined Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and dozens of current NBA players, including Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles natives James Harden, Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan. Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez also attended.
Vanessa Bryant was followed on the podium by basketball stars Diana Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu. Kobe Bryant was a passionate advocate for women’s basketball, and Gigi Bryant was a promising young player.
“If I represented the present of the women’s game, Gigi represented the future, and Kobe knew it,” said Ionescu, the Oregon star who was mentored by Bryant.
University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was followed by Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s longtime agent before he became the Lakers’ general manager in 2017. Pelinka was Gigi Bryant’s godfather, and their families were close.
Pelinka referred to the day of the crash as “when the axis of the world seemed to shift forever, for all of us.”
He also revealed that Bryant had texted him only moments before the crash, asking for help in securing an internship with a baseball agent for teenager Alexis Altobelli, who lost her parents and younger sister in the crash moments later.
“Kobe lived to make other people’s lives better, all the way up to his final text,” Pelinka said.
The concourse was a sea of people dressed in the team colours of purple and yellow and others in black. On the scoreboard, the Bryant family’s life flashes by in pictures.
The service began just hours after Vanessa Bryant sued the owner of the helicopter that crashed in the fog last month. The wrongful-death lawsuit claimed that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions.
Symbolic meanings ran throughout the ceremony, which was held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa chose Feb. 24 as the date in honour of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.
A private funeral was held in Orange County on Feb. 7.
The Associated Press