Sports

20,000 gather in LA for star-studded Kobe Bryant memorial

Key Points
  • Family, friends and fans of the late Kobe Bryant gathered in Los Angeles at the Staples Center to celebrate the life of Lakers great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant.
  • Speakers at the event featured Jimmy Kimmel, Basketball Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal, and had performances by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Alicia Keys.
Vanessa Bryant is helped off the stage by former NBA player Michael Jordan after speaking during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP

More than 20,000 people gathered inside and around Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to officially say goodbye and celebrate the lives of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who, along with seven others died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Speakers at the memorial included late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the event, Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, and WNBA star Diana Taurasi. Former Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal, University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, and Rob Pelinka, who served as Bryant's agent before taking his current role as Lakers general manager, also shared memories. Singers Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Alicia Keys were among those who performed at the service.

Fighting back tears, Bryant's widow, Vanessa, spoke after Kimmel's opening remarks. She described her daughter's love of sports and her "competitive" nature which emulated her father "but Gianna had a sweet grace about her." Vanessa said Gianna was on target to be the best player in the WNBA.

"She was very much like her daddy in that they both like trying new things and master them. They were great teachers." Vanessa said. "Gianna made us all proud. She still does."

When describing her late husband, Vanessa labeled Bryant the "MVP of girl dads or MVD (Most Valuable Dad)."

"I couldn't see him as a celebrity nor just an incredible basketball player," Vanessa Bryant said. "He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was mine. He was my everything.

"He taught us all valuable lessons about life and sports through his NBA career, his books, his show Detail, and his Punies podcast series," she added. "We're so thankful he left those lessons and stories behind for us."

Near the end of her time recalling experiences with her husband and daughter, Vanessa took a brief pause before concluding: "God knew they couldn't be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together."

Beyoncé kicked off the service with a performance of her 2013 song "XO," saying it was "one of [Bryant's] favorite songs." The song was followed by a video tribute of Bryant's playing days with the Lakers, including moments from the five championships he helped the franchise win throughout his 20-year career.

The service featured more than 30,000 roses placed around the center stage at the memorial, a tribute to Bryant's 33,643 career points. According to multiple reports, a private funeral service was held for Bryant and his daughter on Feb. 7.

Attendees paid for tickets in price tiers ranging from $24.02 to $224, depending on seating. The price amounts were a tribute to the Bryant's jersey numbers he wore throughout his career and Gianna's No. 2 jersey. Proceeds from ticket sales are expected to be donated to the Bryant's Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.

"I'm here as a father, not as a basketball coach," Auriemma said to start his speech, which mentioned moments about Bryant's earlier days coaching the youth basketball team featuring his daughter.

"Number 24, No. 8, and No. 2. Those are basketball numbers. Those are numbers in the past; those are numbers we're not going to get back. What we do have today is how many numbers of kids, like [Taurasi], have been inspired to do more, to work harder, to strive for more," Auriemma said.

During his time reflecting on Bryant's life, sharing early morning phone calls and texting stories, Jordan shed tears as he spoke but humored attendees saying: "I told my wife I wasn't going to do this because I didn't want to see [a crying meme] for the next three or four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me. … He knows how to get to you in a way that affects you personally."

Jordan, who described the relationship he had with Bryant close friends, said he also took pride in being a "big brother" to Bryant, who he said displayed great "passion" in all areas of his life.

"What Kobe Bryant was to me was an inspiration that someone truly cared about the way either I played the game or the way he wanted to play the game," Jordan said. "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."

Earlier this month, the NBA named its All-Star Game MVP award after Bryant, who played in a record 18 consecutive All-Star games, the second-most appearances behind Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who made 19 appearances.

Bryant is also tied with Hall of Famer Bob Pettit for the most All-Star MVPs (four), and at age 19, he became the youngest player to participate in the game in 1998.

"When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. And as I look at this arena, and across the globe, a piece of you died," Jordan said. "Rest in peace, little brother."

VIDEO2:5502:55
Watch Kobe Bryant's CNBC interview highlights through the years