A memorial was held for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on Tuesday to honor their memories after they perished with seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26. Among those in attendance were Shaquille O’Neal, Jimmy Kimmel, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Dwyane Wade, Magic Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Tim Duncan. The ceremony also featured performances by Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys.
Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, made her first public appearance since the tragedy to pay tribute to her daughter and husband. Vanessa addressed the Staples Center crowd and said, “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 mine. He was my everything. Kobe and I had been together since I was 17 and a half years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidante and his protector. He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words.
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She continued, “I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe. He was charismatic, a gentleman. He was loving, adoring and romantic. He was truly the romantic one in our relationship. I looked forward to Valentine’s Day and our anniversaries every year.”
While she spoke, Kobe’s No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys were lit up in the rafters.
“We had always talked about how we would be the fun grandparents to our daughters’ children,” she said. “He would have been the coolest grandpa. Kobe was the MVP of girl-dads, or MVD. He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave and how to keep pushing forward when things get tough.”
Vanessa then described her memories of Gianna and her love for women’s sports.
“She gave the best hugs and the best kisses,” she said. “She had gorgeous soft lips like her daddy. She would hold me and hug me so tight. I could feel her love me. Gigi would have mostly likely become the best player in the WNBA. She would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball. Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women in sports. She wrote papers in school defending women and wrote about how the unequal pay difference of the NBA and WNBA leagues wasn’t fair.”
She later voiced her emotion about not being able to watch Gianna grow up and how painful it’s been to face that hardship. “I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day,” she said. “I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own.”
Michael Jordan revealed his special relationship with Kobe and his determination to be great in all facets of life.
“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 said as he teared up. “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.”
O’Neal spoke about the Lakers’ dynasty in the early 2000’s, their friendship and Kobe’s competitive drive.
“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.”
The ceremony concluded with a screening of Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film, Dear Basketball.