Los Angeles honors Kobe, Gianna Bryant with public memorial

Top Stories
Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant

FILE – In this July 26, 2018, file photo former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Federal investigators say wreckage from the helicopter that crashed last month and killed Bryant, his daughter and seven others did not show any outward evidence of engine failure, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson,File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant’s wife offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter Monday at a packed memorial service for the two, who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.

Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband’s devotion to their family as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Center to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Vanessa Bryant said. “He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”

The service took place at the downtown arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for the final 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career. Thousands of Lakers fans, many wearing Bryant’s jersey or team colors, attended the tearful gathering to honor Los Angeles’ most popular athlete and a global basketball icon.

The ceremony began with Beyonce performing her songs “XO” and “Halo” with dozens of backup musicians. Alicia Keys performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” later in the program, and Christina Aguilera sang “Ave Maria.”

The two-hour program concluded with “Dear Basketball,” Bryant’s Academy Award-winning short film.

After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Vanessa Bryant remembered the family’s life with Gianna and her three siblings and then eulogized her husband. They had been together since 1999.

“He was the most amazing husband,” she said. “Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. I was fire. He was ice. Vice versa at times. … He was my everything.”

The mourners included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joined Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and dozens of current NBA players, including Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles natives James Harden, Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan. Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez also attended.

Jordan, the Chicago Bulls great whose career was wrapping up as Bryant’s was starting in the late 1990s, praised Bryant as “one of my dear friends. He was like a little brother. … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”

O’Neal and Bryant joined the Lakers together in 1996, and they won three consecutive championships during eight tumultuous seasons in purple and gold. Although their relationship was often publicly rocky, Shaq said the two were always friendly in private, even comparing their dynamic to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

“Kobe and I pushed each other to play some of the greatest basketball of all time,” O’Neal said. “I’m proud nobody has accomplished what the threepeat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it.”

O’Neal also got the biggest laugh in the somber service with a profane joke about an exchange in which Shaq told Kobe there was no “I” in team, but Bryant responded by noting that there is an “M-E.”

Vanessa Bryant was followed on the podium by basketball stars Diana Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu. Kobe Bryant was a passionate advocate for women’s basketball, and Gigi Bryant was a promising young player.

“If I represented the present of the women’s game, Gigi represented the future, and Kobe knew it,” said Ionescu, the Oregon star who was mentored by Bryant.

Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s longtime agent before he became the Lakers’ general manager in 2017, referred to the day of the crash as “when the axis of the world seemed to shift forever, for all of us.” Pelinka was also Gigi Bryant’s godfather, and the families were close.

He also revealed that Bryant had texted him only moments before the crash, asking for help in securing an internship with a baseball agent for teenager Alexis Altobelli, who lost her parents and younger sister in the crash moments later.

“Kobe lived to make other people’s lives better, all the way up to his final text,” Pelinka said.

Among the early arriving fans was Alyssa Shapiro, 27, of Huntington Beach, who said she was inspired to become a basketball player after watching countless Lakers games with her father.

The family’s love of the game — and Bryant’s work in women’s sports — prompted her to become a middle school girls’ basketball coach. Her team had played Gianna’s team and she would watch Bryant cheer for his daughter in the stands. She said she went up to Bryant to introduce herself at a game.

“I just wanted to thank him for being such an inspiration to me,” she said. “I grew up watching him on the screen. … It made me realize he’s more than just that guy out on the court.”

The concourse was a sea of people dressed in the team colors of purple and yellow and others in black. On the scoreboard, the Bryant family’s life flashes by in pictures.

The service began just hours after Vanessa Bryant sued the owner of the helicopter that crashed in the fog last month. The wrongful-death lawsuit claimed that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions.

At the arena, fans were given a program containing photos, a purple KB pin and a T-shirt with photos of the father and daughter.

Money from ticket sales was to be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, who moved from the Forum to Staples Center when it opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history. Lakers star LeBron James surpassed him on the night before Bryant’s death.

Bryant remained one of the most popular figures in Los Angeles well into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis.

A private funeral was held Feb. 7 in Orange County.

___

Associated Press Writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Latest on the public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in downtown Los Angeles (all times local):

10 a.m.

Los Angeles Lakers fans are pulling on commemorative T-shirts they were given of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna at a public memorial for the two, who were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash last month.

Many fans are violating the cellphone use ban inside Staples Arena on Monday and are taking photos and videos.

It’s somber and people are chatting in whispers and leafing through programs from their seats as songs like Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” play in the minutes before the formal ceremony starts.

The memorial will feature speakers reflecting on Bryant’s impact on basketball and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements.

___

9:45 a.m.

Los Angeles Lakers fans are filing into Staples Center to remember Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash last month.

The arena where Bryant played features a stage surrounded by thousands of red roses below the scoreboard that’s showing images of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.

Fans arriving for Monday’s public memorial service are being given a program that only contains photos, a purple KB pin and a T-shirt with photos of the father and daughter.

The concourse is a sea of purple, gold and black clothing.

Dozens of fans took photos with a mural inside Staples Center of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal after a championship win.

Janel Alexander of Encino said the mural brought back good memories of “a moment in time that was better than today.”

___

8:40 a.m.

While waiting for Kobe Bryant’s memorial services to begin in Los Angeles, Alyssa Shapiro says she was inspired to become a basketball player after watching countless Lakers games with her father, Rick Shapiro.

The family’s love of the game and Bryant’s work in women’s sports prompted her to become a middle school girls’ basketball coach. Her team played the team of Bryant’s daughter Gianna, who died with her father and seven others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash.

Alyssa Shapiro said before the memorial service Monday for Bryant and his daughter that she watched Bryant cheer for Gianna from the stands.

She held homemade heart-shaped “Kobe” and “Gigi” signs ahead of the memorial service and said she “just wanted to thank him for being such an inspiration to me.”

___

7:30 a.m.

Fans are arriving hours early for the public memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna that will be held in downtown Los Angeles

Among them is 72-year-old Bob Melendez, who says he has been a Lakers season ticket holder for 40 years.

Melendez says that after seeing Bryant play for many years he couldn’t imagine missing Monday’s memorial at Staples Center.

His friend Tom Ling says he couldn’t believe it when heard of Bryant’s death.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

The memorial is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Los Angeles time.

___

12: 30 a.m.

Thousands of mourners are expected to gather at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.

The memorial will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant’s family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant’s public life are expected to attend.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mourners began gathering Monday in downtown Los Angeles to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the Staples Center, hours before Bryant’s memorial service was scheduled to start.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

FILE – In this March 2, 2019, file photo Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch the first half of an NCAA college basketball game between Connecticut and Houston in Storrs, Conn. A public memorial service for Bryant, Gianna and seven others killed in a helicopter crash is planned for Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, a person with knowledge of the details told The Associated Press on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Early arriving fans included Bob Melendez, 72, who has been a season ticket holder for 40 years. After seeing Bryant play for the Lakers for years — including at his retirement game — Melendez said he could not imagine missing the memorial.

Melendez and friends Tom Ling, Rene Vega and Brett Noss said they wanted to pay their respects to the Bryant family.

Vega said his grandchildren and Bryant’s children attend the same school. Bryant called Vega “Grandpa” and snuck up behind him and pick him up.

Ling, wearing a silver No. 8 jersey, said he couldn’t believe the news of Bryant’s death.

“We thought it was fake news,” he said. “We didn’t want to believe it.”

Melendez wore a black No. 24 jersey and Lakers jacket he bought for Bryant’s final game.

“I’d never dreamed I’d be wearing this” at Bryant’s memorial, he said.

The Celebration of Life will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant’s family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant’s public life are expected to attend.

Staples Center is sold out for the memorial. The money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.

Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother, chose Feb. 24 as the date in honor of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.

A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.

___

Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

TRENDING STORIES