A gallery of basketball legends joined thousands of Kobe Bryant fans in Los Angeles on Monday (February 24) to pay tribute to the transcendent NBA star, his daughter and seven others who died in a helicopter crash last month that shocked the world of sports and beyond.
The “Celebration of Life” memorial at the Staples Center, Bryant’s home arena during most of his storied 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, featured an emotional address by Bryant’s widow Vanessa, who started dating Kobe when she was 17.
She told a rapt audience that included National Basketball Association luminaries and show-business celebrities about the pain of losing her 13-year-old daughter Gianna, “an amazingly sweet and gentle soul,” and the husband she called her “soulmate.”
“He was my everything,” she said of Bryant, who joined the NBA at age 18 straight out of high school, was a five-time champion and fourth-highest scorer in league history with 33,643 points.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” Vanessa Bryant said, referring to her husband and daughter. “He had to bring them home to heaven together.”
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and former Bryant teammate Shaquille O’Neal were among the Basketball Hall of Famers who attended the memorial, which opened with a performance by singer Beyonce and a montage of Bryant’s on-court highlights.
“What Kobe Bryant was to me was the inspiration that someone truly cared about the way that I played the game or the way that he wanted to play the game. 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.”
Jordan jokingly told the crowd that he feared creating another crying meme for the internet and the Staples Center erupted in laughter including from Bryant’s wife Vanessa. A photograph of Jordan crying at his basketball induction ceremony is a constant on social media to convey sadness of every type.
Bryant, 41, and the others were killed on Jan. 26 in a crash in Calabasas, California, while en route to a youth basketball tournament at which Kobe was planning to coach his daughter and her teammates.