In the month following the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, along with Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan, there has been an outpouring of tributes remembering the Lakers legend. Basketball teams took 8 and 24 second violations in honor of his retired numbers. Across the world, murals popped up and buildings were lit up with purple and gold. Memorabilia was left outside of the Staples Center, also known as “The House That Kobe Built.” Fans, friends, and family shared how Kobe affected their lives, on and off the court. Dr. Dre even produced a song dedicated to The Black Mamba.
All of these lead up to the most beautiful one of all – the Celebration of Life held earlier this week on 2.24 (Gigi and Kobe’s numbers) at the Staples Center.
The ceremony began with Beyonce, joined by a band dressed in white, singing “XO”, which was one of Kobe’s favorite songs. The song lead into a performance of “Halo”, at the end of which, she mouthed an “I love you” to Vanessa Bryant.
Jimmy Kimmel, who emcee’d the event, struggled to get through his opening speech but still ended on a positive note of gratitude and asked attendees to take a moment to greet the people near them and to be grateful for life. The arena broke out in chants of “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” after the moment was complete.
Vanessa Bryant took the stage next, thanked everyone for their love and support, and had an emotional start to her dedication to her baby girl. Cheered on by attendees, she recounted Gigi’s love for baking, TikTok, and family traditions, among other stories of Gigi’s genuineness, compassion, and thoughtfulness. She shared her thoughts on how Gigi would have most likely become the best basketball player in the WNBA, to resounding applause from the crowd. When she transitioned to her dedication to Kobe, she began by listing off their pet names for each other and describing how to her, Kobe wasn’t a celebrity or a basketball player…but her everything. She spoke of their life dreams, how Kobe was the “MVP of girl dads”, and of how family came first. After she ended her speech, the crowd rose for a standing ovation.
Diana Taurasi, affectionately nicknamed “The White Mamba” by Kobe himself, spoke next about Gigi’s fearless mentality and of the look of excitement, belonging, and fierce determination she saw on the Mambacita’s face not too long before the crash. Sabrina Ionescu and Geno Auriemma were the next two speakers to reminsce on their encounters with Kobe and Gigi – remembering how compassionate and driven the father and daughter pair was and how inspiring they will continue to be. Rob Pelinka took the podium next to talk about the three unique sides of Kobe that the world did not always see – Kobe the Best Friend, Kobe the Dad, and Kobe the Husband.
Alicia Keys, who hosted the 62nd annual GRAMMY Awards and opened the ceremony by paying tribute to Kobe and Gianna, performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, which was one of the pair’s favorite musical numbers. Following the performance, a video played highlighting major milestones in Kobe’s career and life beyond basketball, from the moment he was just a kid starting in the NBA to winning 5 NBA championships to winning an Oscar to Mamba Forever.
Kobe’s childhood idol and close friend, Michael Jordan, gave a tearful speech reminiscing on their friendship which turned into a brotherhood. Shaquille O’Neal, who won three back-to-back NBA Championships with Kobe and considered him a brother, was the final speaker for the day. He compared their complex relationship to that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, saying they pushed each other to play their best. A final clip from Kobe’s jersey retirement ceremony played, ending with a “Mamba out.” Christina Aguilera performed “Ave Maria” before “Dear Basketball” was shown to close out the ceremony.
The two-hour ceremony drew around 20,000 people with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, supporting youth sports in underserved communities. Donations can be made online. Donations for the families of the other 7 victims can also be made online at MambaOnThree.
The memorial service can be viewed here, courtesy of Washington Post.