Kobe and Gianna Bryant honored with memorial service at Staples Center

A memorial service honoring the memory of Kobe and Gianna Bryant at Staples Center has concluded. The ceremony was an opportunity for Bryant’s fans and the public to mourn and honor the fallen Los Angeles Lakers icon who died in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on Jan. 26. Kobe and Gianna were laid to rest in a private ceremony in Corona Del Mar, California, on Feb. 7.

Here’s an account of the day’s events.

Shaq gets big laughs with Kobe story

Shaquille O’Neal provided perspective on Kobe like only he could, sharing a story about his early days playing with him en route to three NBA championships together.

“The day Kobe gained my respect, the guys were complaining, said ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” O’Neal said. “I said ‘I’ll talk to him.’

“I said ‘Kobe. There’s no I in team.’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an M-E in there mother f---er.’ I went back and told Rick [Fox] and Big Shot Bob [Horry], ‘just get the rebound. He’s not passing.’”

Christina Aguilera then sang a rendition of “Ave Maria” before the ceremony closed with Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film “Dear Basketball.”

MJ: ‘I’ll have to look at another crying meme’

Michael Jordan was the player Kobe’s game was most frequently compared to. Along with playing the same shooting guard position, the two shared the same intense competitive streaks and championship desire.

Jordan spoke about his relationship with Kobe as Kobe came up in the NBA.

“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor. Maybe it surprises people that Kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends. ... He was like a little brother.”

Jordan said that Bryant would call him to ask for advice on basketball, business and “the triangle offense.”

“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “But then it turned into certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I can be.”

Jordan, in tears, found room for a joke at his own expense while honoring Kobe.

“Now he’s got me. I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next … I told my wife I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years.”

Alicia Keys’ ‘Moonlight Sonata’ tribute 

Kobe’s agent and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka shared a story about Bryant learning to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata” on piano by ear for Vanessa.

“By the end of the week, he had the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me without a mistake,” Pelinka said. “In my heart, I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s grandest feats for his deepest loves.” 

Alicia Keys then took the stage to to play “Moonlight Sonata” accompanied by a string quartet.

‘Kobe’s last act was heroic’

Rob Pelinka shared that he was texting with Kobe during the fatal helicopter flight.

Pelinka said that he was in church that Sunday morning when Kobe reached out to ask for help securing an internship for Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John and Keri Altobelli, who died in the crash along with their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was one of Gianna’s basketball teammates.

“Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter,” Pelinka said. “ ... Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.”

He then recounted a time that Kobe challenged his son’s 12-year-old boy’s All-Star basketball team to a game against Gianna’s girl’s team.

“Our boys got smashed,” Pelinka said while admiring the precision of Gianna’s team under Kobe’s guidance.

Women’s basketball greats honor Kobe, Gianna

WNBA and UConn great Diana Taurasi and reigning John Wooden Award winner and Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu paid tribute to both Kobe and Gianna.

“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “Gigi already had goals to play for UConn. That in itself showed her fearless mentality.”

Diana Taurasi speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Ionescu spoke of modeling her approach to the game after Bryant’s.

“Growing up I only knew one way to play the game of basketball,” Ionescu said. “Fierce, with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I loved the work even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.”

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma then recounted speaking with Kobe about coaching Gigi’s youth basketball team and watching her play.

“Gianna passed it when she was open,” Auriemma said to laughs. “I thought ‘she’s not listening to her father.’”

‘Gigi would have been the best player in the WNBA’

Kobe’s widow and Gianna’s mother Vanessa opened by speaking on Gianna’s memory.

“She had rhythm and swag ever since she was a baby,” Vanessa said.

She described a confident, driven and talented teenager who spoke Mandarin and Spanish as an eighth-grader and gave pointers to the boy’s basketball team at her school “like the triangle offense.”

“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA,” Vanessa said to applause. “She would have made a huge difference in women’s basketball.”

Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa Bryant at Monday's memorial. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images.)

‘MVP of girl dads’

She then spoke about Kobe, whom she described as “the MVP of girl dads.”

“I want my daughters to remember the amazing person, husband and father he was — the kind of man who wanted to teach future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes,” Vanessa said.

She closed with a message for Kobe.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together.

“Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”

‘Celebration of life’

Comedian, talk show host and Lakers fan Jimmy Kimmel fought back tears to get the talking portion of ceremony underway and introduce Vanessa. 

Before Vanessa took the stage, Kimmel urged fans in attendance to hug and shake hands with their neighbors "to to be grateful for life and the fact that we are all here together.”

Beyonce opens with one of Kobe’s ‘favorite songs’

Beyonce opened the ceremony with a rendition of her hit song “XO,” which she noted was one of Kobe’s favorites.

“Because I love Kobe, and this was one of his favorite songs,” Beyonce said as she urged the Staples Center crowd to sing along.

She then moved into a rendition of “Halo” as Kobe’s widow Vanessa and thousands of others in Staples Center watched along.

A Kobe highlight video followed.

NBA players, greats in attendance

Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Fox, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving and A.C. Green are among the current and former NBA players sighted at the ceremony.

Meanwhile, Boston Celtics players who were in town for Sunday’s game against the Lakers stayed for the memorial. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis shared images of their tickets on social media.

Thousands of fans arrive at Staples Center

More than 20,000 ticketed fans arrived at Staples Center Monday morning out of tens of thousands who applied for tickets to the ceremony honoring Kobe and Gianna’s memory, according to ESPN. Fans who attended received a picture book featuring the Bryant family.

Fans carry posters of Kobe Bryant near the Staples Center before a public memorial for former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)