LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant was remembered Monday as a man of passion, as a fierce competitor who turned his fire for basketball into a love for coaching children while putting his wife and their four daughters above all else.
The “Celebration of Life,” held Monday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, paid tribute to Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California.
It was certainly one of, if not the most, beautiful and poignant services of any American dignitary in recent history.
Mourners packed the venue where Bryant played most of his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and included some of the greatest stars in NBA history — Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell among them — as well as his longtime teammates along with players and coaches for rival NBA teams. Commissioner Adam Silver and Lakers managing owner Jeanie Buss sat together.
Speakers included his widow, Vanessa; Jordan; longtime agent and friend Rob Pelinka, now the general manager of the Lakers; Shaquille O’Neal; Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma; and two women who said they modeled their game after his, WNBA legend Diana Taurasi and Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu. Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera delivered musical tributes.
Jordan, tears streaming down his face, described the brotherly relationship he shared with Bryant, who entered the NBA in 1996 as an 18-year-old. The Hall of Famer discussed the late-night phone calls he’d get from Bryant, who wanted to learn from the man many consider the best who has ever played basketball.
The calls, at first, were a “nuisance,” Jordan said. But he said mentoring Bryant became a passion for Jordan because the Lakers star was so determined to improve his game, Jordan said.
“As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother I could be,” he said.
Jordan’s speech and eulogy will go down in history as his best-ever.
The focus of the nearly two-hour ceremony was not on Bryant the basketball player, but on Bryant the family man. Speakers talked of his relationship with his family, especially Gianna, who also perished in the crash. They were en route to one of her games at the Mamba Sports Academy the morning they died.
Vanessa Bryant – choosing to speak her very private thoughts, publicly in front of 20,000 mourners – described the relationship she shared with her husband and her daughter, and the one they had with each other, during her 20-minute eulogy. She talked about how she and Gianna liked to watch baking shows together and about how Gianna and Kobe watched and traveled to basketball games as a twosome. Gianna liked to view Disney movies with her sisters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri.
“Gigi was sunshine. She brightened my day, every day,” her mother said.
So did her husband.
“I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player,” Vanessa Bryant said of Kobe. “He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was my … he was my everything.”
And she discussed the special bond Kobe and Gianna shared, built in part on her desire to be the next legendary basketball player in the Bryant family.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together.”
–Field Level Media