Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) — A powerful public memorial service was held at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles Monday to honor NBA great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, nearly one month after the helicopter crash that took their lives.
Former teammate Shaquille O’Neal told the 20,000 mourners that “Kobe and I always held a deep respect and love for one another,” calling him “Heaven’s MVP.”
Also among the speakers was Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, who emotionally opened up about her memories of her husband and daughter.
Christina Aguilera sang a stirring rendition of “Ave Maria” and the Staples Center fell silent as Alicia Keys performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
Here is a recap of the service:
Michael Jordan wipes away tears
Fellow NBA great and close friend Michael Jordan wiped tears away as he spoke.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” he said.
Tears streamed down Jordan’s face as he said he wanted to be the “best big brother I could be” for Bryant.
On a lighter note, Jordan joked that his appearance will generate “another crying meme.”
“I told my wife I wasn’t going to do this because I didn’t want to see that for the next three or four years,” he said. “That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”
Jordan said “as a basketball player, as a businessman, and a storyteller, and as father, in the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank. He left it all on the floor.”
“Kobe gave every last ounce of himself to whatever he was doing,” Jordan said. “After basketball he showed a creative side … that I didn’t think any of us knew he had.”
“In retirement he seemed so happy, he found new passions and he continued to give back as a coach, in his community,” Jordan said. “More importantly, he was an amazing dad, amazing husband, who dedicated himself to his family and who loved his daughters with all his heart.
“Kobe never left anything on the court,” he said. “And I think that’s what he would want for us to do. No one knows how much time we have, that’s why we must live in the moment.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s close friend and former agent, and godfather to Gianna, said Bryant celebrated turning 40 with a vacation at a beautiful resort, where he still wanted to “watch Team Mamba game film with Gigi.”
Pelinka described Bryant as the “baby whisperer” who had the “golden touch” and loved to cuddle with his daughters.
When Bryant was on the road, he was always on the phone with his daughters, never wanting to miss a moment of their lives, he said.
“The day after Kobe was gone, I was at home and feeling totally lost,” Pelinka said. “I couldn’t imagine life without the strength and guidance of my best friend.”
Pelinka said he felt the need to connect with something “tangible” that represented their friendship, and his wife reminded him of a book from Bryant.
In the inside cover, Pelinka said Bryant wrote: “to RP, my brother, may you always remember to enjoy the road, especially when it’s a hard one.”
Sabrina Ionescu, a basketball player at the University of Oregon who became a mentor for Gianna, called the 13-year-old “the future” of women’s basketball.
“She always wanted to learn, to go to every game she could — college, NBA, WNBA,” she said. “Kobe was helping with that because he saw it in her. Just like he saw it in me.”
Ionescu recalled how Kobe Bryant 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.
Ionescu said she still texts Kobe Bryant’s phone.
“The texts go through, but no response,” she said. “Sometimes I find myself still waiting.”
WNBA player Diana Taurasi said, “Gigi 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 A 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,” she vowed.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, who was with the NBA player since she was 17, opened up about her “soulmate” as she spoke at the service.
She recalled how he was the romantic in the relationship and planned special anniversary trips and gifts. She called his handmade presents “my most treasured gifts.”
Vanessa Bryant called her husband the best “girl dad,” who taught their four daughters “how to be brave and keep pushing forward when things get tough.”
She described him as a “doting” and “hands-on” father and who helped bathe their kids, sing them “silly songs” and had bedtime “down to a science.”
“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,” she said. “He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was my—he was my everything.”
Vanessa Bryant was overcome with emotion as she said Gianna “always kissed me goodnight and kissed me good morning.”
“She was daddy’s girl but I know she loved her mama,” she said. “She was one of my very best friends.”
She loved to bake, swim and dance, her mother said. Vanessa Bryant described how her daughter had “the best laugh” and loved family traditions.
She was competitive like her father, but “had a sweet grace,” she said. “Her smile was like sunshine.”
She said her daughter — a rule follower — would have made a big difference for women’s basketball and was motivated to change the way women were viewed in sports.
Vanessa Bryant grew more emotional as she talked about how she won’t be able to tell Gianna how “gorgeous she looks on her wedding day,” or see her walk down the aisle, or “have a father-daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own.”
‘Be grateful for the time we had’
Jimmy Kimmel cried as he recounted how Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s faces are now plastered on walls across the world.
Kimmel called the service a “celebration of life, of their lives, and of life itself, in the building where those of us who are Lakers fans and Kobe fans celebrated so many of the best times of our lives.”
“It seems to me that all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them and for the time we have left with each other,” Kimmel said.
Beyonce opened the service performing her hit “XO” — which she said was one of Bryant’s favorite songs — followed by “Halo.”
There is significance in the chosen date. It reflects the basketball jersey numbers worn by Kobe (No. 24) and Gianna (No. 2). Vanessa Bryant also noted that her husband was a Laker for 20 years and the two were together for 20 years.
Kobe Bryant and Gianna were among the nine people killed in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Southern California while en route to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
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