Basketball legends past and present united with thousands of Kobe Bryant fans as Bryant’s wife Vanessa paid a moving tribute to the transcendent NBA star and daughter Gianna at a memorial service in Los Angeles.
Former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, were among nine people who died last month in a helicopter crash that sent shockwaves through the world of sports and beyond.
Basketball legends Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar alongside current stars including Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook were in attendance at the “Celebration of Life” memorial at the Staples Center, Bryant’s home arena during most of his storied, 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West were also in attendance.
The event, which opened with a performance by singer Beyonce and a montage of Bryant’s basketball highlights, featured an emotional address by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, who spoke about losing her 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the husband she called her “soulmate.”
“He was mine. He was my everything,” she said of the man she began dating when she was 17.
Vanessa Bryant recalled how Gianna loved to watch Disney movies with her sisters and enjoyed baking for her family.
“Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul,” Vanessa told the crowd through tears. “Her smile was like sunshine. Her smile took up her entire face.”
Bryant, 41, and the others were killed in the crash while en route to a youth basketball tournament at which Kobe was planning to coach his daughter and her teammates.
Chicago Bulls legend Jordan, who won six NBA titles, helped Vanessa from the stage before also giving a tearful speech that referred to how often the two players were compared.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” said Jordan.
“Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I but I just wanted to talk about Kobe.
“Rest in peace, little brother.”
O’Neal and Bryant, who was nicknamed ‘Black Mamba’, won three consecutive NBA titles together during an eight-year spell as Lakers team-mates from 1996 to 2004.
“Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time,” said O’Neal.
“Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for one another.
“Mamba, you were taken away from us way too soon, just know that we got your back, little brother.”
Bryant, who joined the National Basketball Association at age 18 straight out of high school, was a five-time NBA champion and fourth-highest scorer in league history with 33,643 points.
The Lakers, where he spent his entire career, retired both of his jersey numbers – 8 and 24, which hang from the arena’s rafters.
During the annual NBA All-Star weekend three weeks after his death, the league announced its All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honor would be permanently named for the late superstar.