Thousands fill the Staples Center for Kobe Bryant’s ‘Celebration of Life’
Reuters | 2/28/2020, 6 a.m.
A gallery of basketball legends joined thousands of Kobe Bryant fans in Los Angeles on Monday to pay tribute to the transcendent NBA star, his daughter and seven others who died in a helicopter crash last month that shocked the world of sports and beyond.
The “Celebration of Life” memorial at the Staples Center, Mr. Bryant’s home arena during most of his storied 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, featured an emotional address by Mr. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, who started dating Mr. Bryant when she was 17.
She told a rapt audience that included NBA luminaries and show business celebrities about the pain of losing her 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, “an amazingly sweet and gentle soul,” and the husband she called her “soulmate.”
“He was my everything,” she said of Mr. Bryant, who joined the NBA at age 18 straight out of high school to become a five-time champion and fourth-highest scorer in league history with 33,643 points.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” Mrs. Bryant said, referring to her husband and daughter. “He had to bring them home to heaven together.”'
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and former Bryant teammate Shaquille O’Neal were among the basketball Hall of Famers who attended the memorial, which opened with a performance by Beyoncé and a montage of Mr. Bryant’s on-court highlights.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” said Mr. Jordan with tears streaming down his face. “Please rest in peace, little brother.”
Mr. Bryant, 41, and the others were killed on Jan. 26 in a crash in Calabasas, Calif., while en route to a youth basketball tournament at which Mr. Bryant was planning to coach his daughter and her teammates.
Mrs. Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday against the company that owned the helicopter. The pilot was one of those killed in the accident.
An avid basketball player herself, Gianna hoped one day to play for the powerhouse collegiate program at the University of Connecticut, and she bonded with her father over their shared love of the game.
Fans gathered outside the arena hours before the ceremony started, many of them clad in Lakers purple and gold.
“I have been a Kobe fan for a long, long time. It is so sad, especially with the children. But it has really brought the city together,” said Bubacar Drammeh, who stood outside the venue and planned to watch the memorial on TV.
Inside the Staples Center, the mood was somber. Concession stands were closed and cell phone use discouraged. Attendees were not allowed in if they arrived late.
The proceedings attracted A-list Hollywood stars, including Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez and Spike Lee. Grammy Award-winning musician Alicia Keys performed the “Moonlight Sonata.”
Late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel cried as he read out the names of the deceased and expressed the shock felt by loyal fans of the self-proclaimed “Black Mamba,” who dazzled the Los Angeles community well beyond his time on the court, even winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 2018.
“This is a sad day, but it is also a celebration of life, of their lives,” said Mr. Kimmel, who had Mr. Bryant on his show many times.
After his 20-year playing career, the Lakers retired both jersey numbers Mr. Bryant wore for the team — 8 and 24, which hang from the arena’s rafters along with the numbers of other Lakers’ greats, including Mr. Johnson and Mr. O’Neal.
During the annual NBA All-Star weekend three weeks after the crash, the league said it would name its All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honor for Mr. Bryant. It was won this year by Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Since his death, tributes to Mr. Bryant have appeared across the Los Angeles area, with his numbers displayed on the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, city buses bearing “RIP Kobe” signs and purple and gold lights added to the pylons at LAX airport.
“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” said Mr. Jordan, articulating one of the reasons Mr. Bryant’s stardom transcended sports. “He left it all on the floor.”