Friends, family and fellow athletes have paid tribute to NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his daughter Gianna, at a memorial service in Los Angeles.
The ceremony took place at a packed Staples Center, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team Bryant was a part of for his entire 20-year NBA career. Bryant and the other victims were killed in January when their helicopter crashed into a California hillside in foggy conditions.
The ceremony opened with a performance from Beyonce, before Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, paid tribute to her husband and 13-year-old daughter. She was given a standing ovation by thousands in the crowd and a host of NBA legends including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and LeBron James. Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez were also in attendance.
Vanessa Bryant thanked the crowd and fans around the world for their condolences, which she said had helped her and her family deal with their grief. She then paid tribute to her “perfect husband” who she said was “the MVP of girl dads.” She then spoke about Gianna, who she believed had the potential to match Kobe as an international basketball star.
“Her smile was like sunshine,” she said. “Her smile took up her entire face. Like me. Kobe always said she was like me. She had my fire, my personality and sarcasm. She was tender and loving on the inside. She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine.”
Vanessa also spoke of the close relationship between Kobe and Gianna. “God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” she said. “He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
Bryant was known as a keen supporter of women’s basketball and several stars of the game spoke of their experiences with him. Sabina Ionescu, the best college player in the US, told the crowd that Bryant, who won five NBA titles with the Lakers, had acted as her mentor. She added that she has continued to text him after his death.
“The last one I sent him said, ‘I miss you. May you rest in peace, my dear friend,’” Ionescu said. “The texts go through, but no response. It still feels like he’s there, on the other end. That the next time I pick up my phone, he would have hit me back. Sometimes, I find myself still waiting.”
Jordan, widely acknowledge as the greatest NBA player of all time, was in tears as he spoke of his relationship with Bryant. “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” he said.
Both men were known as fierce competitors, but they also forged a bond. “Maybe it surprised people … but we were very close friends,” said Jordan. “Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
Jordan added that Bryant had come to him for advice during his career. “At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”
Bryant’s former teammate and fellow Hall of Fame member, Shaquille O’Neal, was next to speak. “Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time and I am proud that no other team has accomplished what the three-peat Lakers have done since the Kobe and Shaq Lakers,” he continued. “You were taken away from us way too soon.”
O’Neal also reduced the crowd to laughter as he remembered Bryant’s fierce drive and spirit. He called a time Bryant complained about not getting enough passes in a game. “I said, ‘There’s no I in team,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but there’s a M-E in motherfucker.’”
The service was rounded out by a performance from Christina Aguilera, who sang Ave Maria.
Bryant is survived by his parents, Vanessa and his three other daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri. On Monday, it was also announced that Vanessa has filed a lawsuit against the company that owned the helicopter in which Kobe, Gianna and the other victims were killed.