Thousands of mourners packed Staples Center Monday morning for the official memorial ceremony for former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
Pop star Beyoncé kicked off the sold-out "Celebration of Life" with one of the Lakers star's favorite songs, "XO" and "Halo."
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel spoke next, remembering Kobe as a great basketball player who had an enormous impact on Los Angeles.
"Everywhere you go, you see his face, his number. Gigi’s face, Gigi’s number. Everywhere at every intersection. There are hundreds of murals painted by artists who are inspired, not because he is a basketball player but because Kobe was an artist too. And not just in LA across the country and Kobe’s hometown, Philadelphia, in Italy, in India, the Philippines, China, New York, Phoenix, Boston, for God’s sake," Kimmel said.
"In places where you would be booed on the court, Kobe is missed. Even a great Boston Celtic Bill Russell, wore number 24, and a Lakers jersey to yesterday’s game. I knew he would come to us eventually," Kimmel added.
"When perfect strangers who love the same team are suddenly hugging and high fiving and celebrating together and so, since we are here today to celebrate, I’d like to invite you right now to take a moment to say hello to the people around you," Kimmel said. "Whether you know them or not. To be grateful for life, and for the fact that we are all here together."
Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe and mother to Gianna, took the stage at the memorial to deliver a tearful eulogy for her husband and daughter that kept the audience inside the arena spellbound and on the edge of their seats.
"I'd like to talk about both Kobe and Gigi," Vanessa Bryant said. "But I'll start with my baby girl first."
Bryant remembered her daughter as being "tender and loving on the inside," and having "the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine."
"There were a few occasions where...I thought she had left for school without saying good-bye. I'd text and say 'No kiss?' And Gianna would reply with, 'Mama I kissed you, but you were asleep and I didn't want to wake you.'"
Bryant became emotional several times during the speech, at one point saying Gianna would have been "an amazing mommy."
"She likely would have become the best player in the WNBA," Bryant said to applause from the audience. She also reflected on the milestones she would miss with her baby girl, including watching her walk down the aisle, or her first father-daughter dance.
Bryant also praised her husband, who she called the MVP of girl dads.
"We had always talked about how we'd be the fun grandparents to our daughter's children. He would've been the coolest grandpa. Kobe was the MVD of #girldads," Bryant said of her late husband.
"I couldn't see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player. He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was my... he was my everything," Bryant said.
Among the other guests who spoke at the memorial on Monday, was WNBA player Diana Taurasi, who talked about Kobe's tenacity and Gianna's skills on the court.
“The same passion we all recognized in Kobe, obviously, Gigi inherited. Her skill was undeniable at an early age,” Taurasi said. “Gigi in many ways represents the future of women's basketball.”
Many of basketball's greatest players were in attendance, including Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Dwyane Wade, Steph Curry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Micheal Jordan.
Jordan said Kobe wanted to be the best basketball player he could be and he wanted to be the best "big brother" to Kobe he could be.
"To do that, you have to put up with the aggravation, the late-night calls or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant. ... He was just trying to be a better person. We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything.
"In retirement, he seemed so happy, he found new passions and he continued to give back as a coach and his community," Jordan said. "More importantly, he was an amazing dad, amazing husband. Kobe never left anything on the court, and I think that's what he would want for us to do."
Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe's former teammate, became emotional as he spoke about the relationship they developed while playing together over the years.
"Kobe was a loyal friend and a true renaissance man," O'Neal said. "As many of you know, Kobe and I had a very complex relationship throughout the years, but not unlike another leadership duo, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whose creative rivalry led to some of the greatest music of all time. Kobe and I pushed one another and played 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 Shaq and the Kobe Lakers did it."
Up to 20,000 seats inside Staples Center were made available for Monday's memorial. Tickets ranged in price between $24.02 to $224, a reference to Bryant's jersey number, 24, and Gianna's number 2. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The tickets are non-transferrable, meaning any guests must enter with the purchaser of the tickets.
The line for the memorial wrapped around LA Live as vendors hawked t-shirts and hats for fans as they waited to get inside.
Screens were not set up outside Staples Center or at L.A. Live to show the memorial. Those without tickets were told to avoid the area and watch the memorial from home.
Bryant and Gianna were among nine people who were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas on Jan. 26.
The other people killed in the crash included:
- John Altobelli, 56, longtime coach of the Orange Coast College baseball team, along with his wife, Keri, 46, and their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Gianna on Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy basketball team;
- Sarah Chester, 45, and her 13-year-old daughter Payton, who also played with Gianna and Alyssa;
- Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant's assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team; and
- Ara Zobayan, 50, the helicopter pilot.
Bryant, 41, played his entire NBA career with the Lakers, helping lead the team to five championships and became one of the highest rated basketball players of all time by the end of his career.
Photo: Getty Images