A crowd of 20,000 people rose to their feet and cheered as Vanessa Bryant and the Bryant family emerged out of the Staples Center tunnel towards the rose-adorned stage positioned near center court for Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s public memorial service on Monday morning. It was the same tunnel that Kobe walked out of countless times over the course of his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The stage was covered in 33,643 roses that represent the number of points Kobe scored during his NBA career.
Kobe’s two retired jersey numbers, No. 8 and No. 24, were illuminated in the rafters and could be seen so clearly as each speaker and performer took the stage.
The celebration of life was intentionally held on 2.24.20 to commemorate the numbers worn by Gianna Bryant (No. 2), Kobe Bryant (No. 24) and the number of years Kobe played for the Lakers (20), which was also the number of years he and Vanessa were a couple.
Jimmy Kimmel, who emceed the celebration, opened with an emotionally charged monologue.
“Everywhere you go, you see their face, their numbers,” the late-night talk show host and longtime friend of Kobe uttered as he held back tears.
He was right. He referenced the hundreds of murals painted around the city of Los Angeles since their untimely passing, but the service also seamlessly incorporated these numbers. Each guest received four keepsakes upon entering Staples Center: a program filled with photos of Kobe, GiGi, and the Bryant family; a pin that has the initials “K-B”; a t-shirt with a montage of photos of Kobe and GiGi on the front and on the back their last name “Bryant” with “2∞24”; and a ticket that read Section 8, Row 24, Seat 2.
Their numbers were even incorporated in the ticket prices charged to attend the memorial. Fans were chosen at random via lottery to receive an invitation to purchase tickets to the memorial that were priced in three tiers: $224 each, two for $224, and $24.02 each. All proceeds for the ticket sales will go to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, an organization incepted to further Kobe and GiGi’s legacy through charitable endeavors in sports.
As fans filled the stands, the floor of Staples Center was reserved for some of Hollywood and the NBA’s biggest and most elite stars, who also paid their respects to the man who far transcended his chosen sport. Among them were NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Queen Latifah, J Lo and Alex Rodriguez, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, and Snoop Dogg.
Several of his former teammates and coaches attended: Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Kyle Kuzma, Byron Scott, Rick Fox, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Nick Young, Greg Popovich, and Phil Jackson. The long list of distinguished attendees included legendary former players such as Jerry West, who orchestrated the trade that brought Kobe to the Lakers, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Tim Duncan.
There was also a host of current players and coaches present including Klay Thompson, Quinn Cook, Russell Westbrook, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Devin Booker, Draymond Green, Rajon Rondo, Jayson Tatum, DeMar DeRozan, and Jason Kidd.
Given Kobe’s overwhelming support of the WNBA, there was a group of WNBA legends and current players like Lisa Leslie, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, and Liz Cambage.
The old saying goes, you are a reflection of the people you surround yourself with. What could be learned at Kobe’s memorial is that he was a dignitary, a humanitarian, a basketball icon, a person striving to be better all the days of his life, and above all a family man.
The full program lineup of individuals who spoke was Vanessa Bryant, Diana Taurasi, Sabrina Ionescu, Geno Auriemma, Rob Pelinka, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. There were special musical performances by Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, who was accompanied by an all-Black mini-orchestra as she played Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano, and Christina Aguilera, who sang “Ave Maria”.
Beyonce performed “XO”, which she stated was one of Kobe’s favorite songs of hers, she followed that up with a special rendition of her classic single, “Halo”.
Michael Jordan’s eulogy stood out as one of the greatest moments of the morning as he revealed the close relationship he had with Kobe and even referred to him as his “little brother”. As Kobe’s idol growing up, Jordan stated that it was actually Kobe who inspired him to be a great #GirlDad and a better person. Jordan added some much appreciated comedic relief as he cried throughout the entirety of his speech. He poked fun at himself.
“Now, he’s got me and I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next…,” the crowd roared with laughter and applause. “I told my wife I wasn’t gonna do this cause I didn’t want to see that for the next three or four years.”
He continued on in his speech extending his deepest condolences to all of the families who were affected by the tragedy.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan remarked. “And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died, or else you wouldn’t be here.”
Shaq, who won three championships with Kobe as Laker teammates, was the final speaker of the celebration. He also brought some light to the occasion as he recounted a time when he attempted to intervene on behalf of some of his teammates who were concerned that Kobe should pass the ball more.
“I said, ‘There’s no I in team,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but there’s an M-E in m*****f*****.'”
When Vanessa took the stage, the full gravity and devastation of the loss that claimed the lives of Kobe and GiGi and the seven other passengers in that helicopter was felt throughout STAPLES Center. Her quiet reserve, her thoughtful remarks, and the resolve that it took for her in that moment to honor her husband and daughter was perhaps the most poignant of all that took place.
“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. I got Nati, BiBi and KoKo, and we’re still the best team.”
It seemed fitting that the memorial ended with a showing of Kobe’s Oscar award-winning short Dear Basketball, which began as a love letter he wrote about the game of basketball. The world knew about Kobe Bryant the basketball player, but less was known about Gianna Bryant and that’s where Vanessa would start with her “baby girl”.
“Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women in sports,” Vanessa shared. “She wrote papers in school defending women and wrote about how the unequal pay difference for the NBA and WNBA leagues wasn’t fair. And I truly feel she made a positive change for the WNBA players now because they knew Gigi’s goal was to eventually play in the WNBA.”
Diana Taurasi, who is regarded as one of the greatest WNBA players in the world and was nicknamed “White Mamba” by Kobe, echoed Vanessa’s sentiments of GiGi being poised as the future of women’s basketball.
“The same passion we all recognized in Kobe obviously Gigi inherited,” Taurasi said. “I mean who has a turnaround fadeaway jumper at 11? LeBron barely got it today,” she said jokingly.
“Gigi in many ways, represents the future of women’s basketball,” continued Taurasi. “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. She represents a time where a young girl doesn’t need permission to play. Her skill would command respect.”
Diana Taurasi so eloquently closed her speech with, “Kobe y GiGi están en el corazón de Los Ángeles, y los ángeles nunca mueren. Te queremos mucho.”
Translation, “Kobe and GiGi are in the heart of Los Angeles, and angels never die. We love you.” In the house that Kobe built, he and GiGi’s legacies were immortalized and their halos will forever live in the fabric of this city.