SWITZERLAND, FEBRUARY 25 – There was an outpouring of tributes and the tears flowed freely as over 20,000 people gathered at the Staples centre on Monday at the memorial of Basketball legend, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
The Celebration of Life honoring the late basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter drew fans from across the country to the Southern California city almost a month after they were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26.
Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother, opened the memorial with tearful remarks about her ‘baby girl’ and her ‘soulmate’.
‘God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,’ Vanessa said. ‘He had to bring them home to have them together.’
She described Gianna as ‘an amazingly sweet and gentle soul’ who lit up every room she walked into, and choked up as she talked about how her daughter inherited her father’s fierce love and talent for basketball, and how she would never get to see Gianna become the trailblazer she was destined to be in the sports world.
Vanessa then reflected on her 21-year relationship with Kobe, whom she described as ‘the best girl dad’, who taught their four daughters ‘how to be brave and keep pushing forward when things get tough’.
NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal took the stage later on, both breaking down in tears as they remembered their late friend and rival.
Several other famous sports figures who knew Kobe personally and professionally also spoke at the memorial, which featured musical performances by Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera.
Beyonce and Alicia Keys performed and fans, with and without tickets, paid their respects outside of the stadium.
Earlier, Ms Bryant announced she is suing the owner of the helicopter in which her husband, her daughter and seven other people were travelling when it crashed in fog.
Staples Center sold out for the memorial, and the money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in under-served communities and teaches sports to girls and women.
Vanessa chose February 24 as the date for the memorial in honor of the pair’s uniform numbers.
Kobe wore number 24 over the second half of his career and Gianna wore number 2 on her youth basketball teams.
Symbolic meanings ran throughout the ceremony, which took place on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage.
Audience members included a number of fellow sports stars and A-list friends of the Bryants, including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, Michael Phelps, Snoop Dogg, Steph Curry, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Scotty Pippen.
Beyoncé opened the service by performing her hit XO – which she said was one of Bryant’s favorite songs – followed by Halo.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel then took the stage and gave a short speech before introducing Vanessa, who thanked the audience before giving an emotional tribute to her husband and daughter.
She described Gianna as a doting daughter who took after both of her parents with her ‘infectious smile’ and her ‘incredible’ athleticism.
‘She was daddy’s girl but I know she loved her mama,’ Vanessa said of Gianna. ‘She was one of my very best friends.’
‘Gigi was very competitive, like her daddy, but Gianna had sweet grace about her. Her smile was like sunshine. Her smile took up her entire face, like mine,’ she said.
‘Kobe always said she was me. She had my fire, my personality and sarcasm, she was tender and loving on the inside. She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine.’
She teared up as she spoke about how she would never get to witness Gianna’s wedding day or see her change the face of basketball.