It has been nearly one month and the death of Kobe Bryant still doesn’t feel real. Though Kobe and his daughter Gianna “GiGi” Bryant were laid to rest at a private funeral on February 7, 2020, the NBA held a public event at the Staples Center to honor their memory. On Monday 2.24.20 family, friends, and fans had a chance to say their final goodbyes at the ‘Celebration of Life Memorial Service’ that was held in remembrance of Kobe, his daughter Gianna, and the seven other souls that were tragically lost in the accident that occurred on January 26, 2020. The date held significance because #2 was GiGi’s jersey number, #24 was Kobe’s jersey number, and as explained by Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, #20 was the “years [Kobe spent] as a Laker and the amount of years Kob and I [Vanessa] were together.”
The stage was set with 33,643 beautiful red roses that represented every point that Kobe scored during his 20-year tenure as a Los Angeles Laker. Houston Native, and friend of Kobe, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter opened the service with stirring renditions of her songs “XO” and “Halo.” Beyoncé addressed the audience saying, “I’m here, because I love Kobe and [‘XO’] was one of his favorite songs. So I want to start that over. And I want us to do it all together.
“And I want you to do it so loud,” Beyoncé said as she looked up to the sky, “they hear your love.”
Following her performance, Jimmy Kimmel tearfully explained that he would be serving as the guide/MC of the service. Though it was a sober event, Kimmel added a bit of levity at times and even reminded the audience that it was, in fact, a “celebration” of life. Jimmy took a moment early on and said, “I’d like to invite you right now to take a moment to say hello to the people around you, whether you know them or not — to be grateful for life and for the fact that we are all here together.”
There were a number of heartfelt speeches but the most touching and heartbreaking moments of all was Vanessa, who bravely fought back tears to talk about her beloved husband Kobe and baby girl Gigi. As Vanessa ascended up the stairs of the stage, the crowd stood on their feet to applaud and support her, knowing how incredibly difficult the next few minutes would be. The intersection of grief that she was experiencing was palpable as she spoke lovingly and beautifully about her daughter and husband. She was helped off of the stage by NBA legend Michael Jordan.
What followed were several speakers who spoke just as much about Gigi’s impact and time here on earth as Kobe’s. A source close to the family shared that it was important to Vanessa that her 13-year-old daughter’s memory be honored as fiercely as her husband’s. WNBA legend Diana Taurasi, Oregon basetball star Sabrina Ionescu, and UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma all spoke about how fiercely Kobe championed women’s basketball, which fueled his passion as a coach for his baby girl GiGi who was to be the next generation of the sport. They each talked about how touching it was to meet and work with GiGi whose passion for the game was inspiring in itself. It was reiterated through the event that GiGi was the future of the WNBA. She had dreams of playing at UCONN and dominating in the WNBA. Taurasi talked about the impression that GiGi made on her. “It was the look of excitement, a look of belonging, a look of fierce determination.”
Sabrina, Kobe’s mentee, said, “If I represented the present of the women’s game, Gigi represented the future, and Kobe knew it.” Following the memorial service she made history becoming the first NCAA Division I player (male or female) to ever reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in her collegiate basketball career in Oregon’s victory over Stanford Monday night.
Kobe’s athletic achievements were barely mentioned as this was a time for some of his closest friends and family members to speak about him as a husband, father, and friend. Rob Pelinka, friend, former agent and Godfather to Gianna, spoke about Kobe’s dedication to helping as many people as he could. “Kobe lived to make other people’s lives better, all the way up to his final text,” Pelinka revealed.
Alicia Keys performed a beautiful rendition of the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor “Quasi una fantasia,” Op. 27, No. 2’ which is more popularly known as Moonlight Sonata.
Michael Jordan then addressed the crowd saying, “I’m grateful to Vanessa and the Bryant family to speak today. I’m grateful to be here to honor GiGi and celebrate the gift that Kobe gave us all…what he accomplished as a basketball player, as a business man, and a storyteller, and as a father.” He talked in detail about how over the years Kobe became one of his dear friends and little brother.
The final speaker was Shaquille O’Neal who was Kobe’s teammate and won three consecutive championships with him as a Laker. He talked about how Kobe was “a loyal friend and a true Renaissance man.” Shaq explained that though their relationship appeared rocky at times in the public eye, behind the scenes they were focused and “pushed each other to play some of the greatest basketball of all time.”
News broke shortly before the service began that Vanessa filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the helicopter company. Though the investigation of the crash is ongoing, it is apparent that there were no signs of mechanical failure. The implication of the lawsuit is that the pilot acted carelessly and negligently by failing to take the proper precautionary steps before flying in cloudy conditions.
Perhaps knowing that he touched so many lives and inspired so many people to strive to be their greatest selves, will bring a small amount of comfort for his loved ones.
Attendees received a program book and a commemorative T-shirt. All of the proceeds from the sold-out service will be donated to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation is a non-profit foundation that “exists to further Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s legacy through charitable endeavors in sports.”