The Kobe Timeline, February-March 2020: Vanessa's emotional, moving eulogy at public memorial

Ben Rohrbach
·12 min read

The Kobe Bryant timeline, a year of tragedy and triumph, begins Jan. 25, 2020 and ends Oct. 11, 2020. The following are events from February and March 2020, including the Lakers’ first home game, All-Star weekend and the public Staples Center memorial service.

Part I: The Kobe Timeline: Remembering the fallen Lakers legend, from tragedy to triumph

Part III: The Kobe Timeline, April-October 2020: First-ballot Hall of Fame nod, birthday tributes and Lakers' 17th NBA title

Feb. 1, 2020

On the day Staples Center president Lee Zeidman honors the Bryant family’s request to collect and catalogue items from the memorial outside the arena, the Lakers host their first game since Kobe Bryant’s death.

Yellow shirts bearing Nos. 8 and 24 adorn the Staples Center seats. Fans file in 30 minutes before tipoff, filling the arena with chants of “Kobe” and “M-V-P.” Usher sings “Amazing Grace” prior to a video montage. Public address announcer Lawrence Tanter requests 24.2 seconds of silence — the numbers of Bryant and his daughter, whose jerseys sit on two rose-covered floor seats. Also courtside are Gianna’s teammates.

LeBron James issues a pregame address, telling the sold-out crowd, “I know we’ll have a memorial for Kobe, but I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the blood, sweat, tears, the countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight is a celebration of the kid who came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve ever seen over this last three years.”

The game starts with 24- and eight-second violations. Portland’s Damian Lillard proceeds to go full Mamba, amassing 48 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the Trail Blazers’ 127-119 win. He tells Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes afterward, “I just wanted to honor him by competing and coming out here playing a great game and trying to win.”

In an emotional postgame news conference, James reflects on fatherhood, telling reporters, “Make sure you hug the s*** out of your family. If you’ve got kids, tell your kids you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can and don’t feel bad if you have to sacrifice your job to go to one of your loved ones’ events.”

• During a friendly against Costa Rica in Los Angeles, the United States men’s national soccer team honors Bryant, a longtime supporter, all sporting No. 24 jerseys during pregame warmups. A “Kobe” chant breaks out in the crowd during the game’s 24th minute. In his USMNT debut, 18-year-old Ulysses Llanez celebrates his first goal, the game’s lone score, with a fadeaway jumper in tribute to Bryant.

Feb. 2, 2020

Mourners flock to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church for 7 a.m. mass, where the Catholic church’s parishioners pray the helicopter victims rest in peace and their families find healing in the aftermath.

• The day ends with Super Bowl LIV, where players from the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers step to the 24-yard line in cleats covered in Bryant tributes for a moment of silence honoring victims of the crash. The halftime show featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira ends with a giant cross lit yellow and purple on the field. During the postgame celebration, Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy sports a Bryant jersey, telling reporters, “I lost my idol, and I lost my friend. I just want to show him love. I pray for his family.”

Feb. 3, 2020

The memorial outside Staples Center is taken down, to be delivered to the Bryant family. More than 1,300 basketballs are collected. In lieu of flowers, candles, signs and memorabilia, Staples Center officials encourage fans to donate to the MambaOnThree Fund and the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.

• That night, when James is asked why members of the team he will captain at the All-Star Game will all be wearing Gianna’s No. 2 on their jerseys at his behest, he simply says, “Zhuri,” his only daughter’s name.

Feb. 4, 2020

• Authorities release the 911 calls received in the moments after the helicopter crash.

“I could hear this plane, as if it was in the clouds but couldn’t see it,” one caller says. “Then we just heard a boom and a dead sound, and I could see the flames.” Others shared similar visuals through the dense fog.

• Across the country, Sylvester Stallone calls for a Bryant statue next to his “Rocky” effigy in Philadelphia.

Feb. 5, 2020

In an official letter, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) calls on the Federal Aviation Administration “to require all commercial helicopters operating in the U.S. to have terrain awareness and warning systems.”

Feb. 6, 2020

Gianna Bryant’s No. 2 is retired at Harbor Day School, where she was a budding basketball star.

Feb. 7, 2020

• Kobe and Gianna Bryant are laid to rest in a private ceremony in Corona Del Mar, California.

• The National Transportation Safety Board reveals the crash shows no evidence of engine failure.

Feb. 9, 2020

Oscar-winning filmmaker and famed New York Knicks fan Spike Lee arrives to the Academy Awards at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre wearing a purple suit with No. 24 emblazoned across the yellow-lined lapels.

The awards ceremony’s “In Memoriam” segment begins with an image of Bryant, whose adaptation of his “Dear Basketball” poem won the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The image features Bryant’s words: “Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving.”

Feb. 10, 2020

The public memorial service for John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and their 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, is held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California. “There is no way for me to put what they mean to me into words,” J.J. Altobelli says at the service. “The legacy they left will continue to live on through all of us.”

Feb. 11, 2020

Vanessa shares her struggle in an Instagram post featuring a Slam Magazine video feature of her late husband’s work coaching their daughter Gianna and her Mamba Sports Academy teammates.

“My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone,” Bryant’s widow writes, in part. “I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me. It feels wrong. Why should I be able to wake up another day when my baby girl isn’t being able to have that opportunity?! I’m so mad. She had so much life to live. Then I realize I need to be strong and be here for my three daughters. Mad I’m not with Kobe and Gigi but thankful I’m here with Natalia, Bianka and Capri. I know what I’m feeling is normal. It’s part of the grieving process.”

Feb. 13, 2020

Bryant’s foundation is renamed the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation to include Gianna.

Feb. 14, 2020

Bryant officially becomes a Basketball Hall of Fame finalist. To give breathing room to his surefire induction, the list of NBA entrants is trimmed to only include fellow locks Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

Feb. 15, 2020

• As the first day of registration opens, more than 90,000 people request entrance into a drawing for fewer than 20,000 seats at Bryant’s public memorial service. Randomly selected entrants will have the opportunity to purchase a pair of tickets ranging from $224 to $24.02 and benefiting Bryant’s foundation.

• In his annual All-Star Weekend news conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces the All-Star Game MVP trophy will be renamed for Bryant, who won it a record four times between 2002 and 2011.

• That night during the Slam Dunk Contest, in a recreation of his famed “Superman” dunk, Lakers center Dwight Howard reveals Bryant’s No. 24 in the center of the logo on the superhero outfit he wore for the contest. The bronzed ball he uses for a 49-point dunk also features his the signature of his former teammate — and one of his harshest critics.

“We know Kobe is watching over us,” Howard says following the dunk contest. “We’re grateful, thankful that he gave us some great knowledge. Very appreciative of the time we got to spend with Kobe Bryant.”

Feb. 17, 2020

The All-Star Game is played in Bryant’s honor at Chicago’s United Center.

Magic Johnson leads an eight-second pregame moment of silence remembering Bryant and late commissioner David Stern. “We’ll never see another basketball player quite like Kobe,” he tells the crowd.

Grammy-winning recording artist and Chicago native Jennifer Hudson, dressed in purple, follows with a powerful rendition of “For All We Know,” as images of Bryant fill the massive digital screens behind her.

Feb. 20, 2020

Details of the public memorial ceremony for Bryant and the crash victims are released. The service at Staples Center, scheduled for the morning of Feb. 24 for obvious reasons, is expected to be televised.

Feb. 22, 2020

The Los Angeles Times reports that helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan was reprimanded in 2015 by the Federal Aviation Administration for violating federal rules concerning visibility near Los Angeles International Airport.

Feb. 23, 2020

On the eve of Bryant’s memorial service in Los Angeles, with the Lakers and Celtics renewing their rivalry for the first time since the helicopter crash, Boston legend Bill Russell arrives to his courtside seat at Staples Center wearing Bryant’s No. 24 jersey. “We had much love and respect for one another,” he says.

Vanessa Bryant at a podium during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant's widow, Vanessa, speaks during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Feb. 24, 2020

(All times Pacific)

8:30 a.m.: Hours after a line formed outside Staples Center, doors open for the public memorial service. Attendees, many already sporting Bryant’s jersey, receive black T-shirts bearing Kobe and Gianna’s images. On the court, 33,643 roses — one for every point of Bryant’s career — adorn a square black stage.

9:26 a.m.: TMZ reports on Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters. The suit alleges the company and its pilot bypassed visual flight rules and unnecessarily placed the passengers in grave risk, citing Zobayan’s previous violation. The Bryant family seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

10:28 a.m.: “A Celebration of Life” begins. Video of Gianna’s basketball highlights, meshed with Kobe’s mentorship, plays on the scoreboard. Accompanied by Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Vanessa and her three surviving daughters — Natalia, 17; Bianka, 3; and Capri, 9 months — enter the arena to a standing ovation from 20,000 strong.

The list of attendees includes Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Stephen Curry, Jennifer Lopez and Snoop Dogg, among other luminaries.

Beyoncé performs “XO,” one of Bryant’s favorite songs, followed by “Halo.”

10:48 a.m.: Amid “Kobe” chants, master of ceremony Jimmy Kimmel introduces Bryant’s widow, Vanessa. Incredibly, she speaks for 22 minutes, describing her husband as a romantic and their daughter Gianna as an “amazingly sweet and gentle soul” who saw the advancement of women’s sports as her life’s calling.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” she says in closing.

11:11 a.m.: Diana Taurasi, Sabrina Ionescu and Geno Auriemma follow with eulogies of their own.

“How many women are going to be inspired by Gigi’s life?” the legendary UConn coach says. “How many fathers are going to be inspired by Kobe’s life to really be fathers the way fathers are supposed to be?”

11:38 a.m.: Pelinka tells the story of 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. In my heart, I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s grandest feats for his deepest loves.”

11:55 a.m.: Alicia Keys takes the stage to to play “Moonlight Sonata,” accompanied by a string quartet.

12:04 p.m.: A teary eyed Michael Jordan takes the stage. “When Kobe died, a piece of me died,” he says.

“Now he’s got me, I’m going to have to look at another crying meme for the next —” he adds to applause, “I told my wife I wasn’t going to do this, because I didn’t want to see that for the next three or four years.”

12:18 p.m.: O’Neal also draws laughs.

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

12:25 p.m.: Christina Aguilera sings a rendition of “Ave Maria” before the ceremony closes with Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film “Dear Basketball.” One last “Kobe” chant fills Staples Center before attendees of the two-hour service file out of the arena, while Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” plays in the background.

Feb. 25, 2020

• Back at Lakers practice, James tells reporters he is “emotionally a wreck, like everyone else.”

• Meanwhile, MLB super-agent Scott Boras, the subject of texts between Bryant and Pelinka just before the helicopter crash, announces he will honor Bryant’s dying wish and create an internship for Alexis Altobelli.

Feb. 28, 2020

According to the Los Angeles Times, members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department allegedly shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash scene, including pictures of victims’ remains. The news is met with a harsh rebuke from the Bryant family’s attorney, Gary C. Robb, who says Vanessa is “devastated” by the news and calls for the “harshest possible discipline” for “an unspeakable violation of human decency.”

March 18, 2020

Vanessa Bryant applies to add their infant daughter, Capri, to the family trust.

March 20, 2020

Nine days into a coronavirus pandemic-induced suspension of the 2019-20 NBA season, during a mandatory stay-at-home order in L.A. and a recommended 14-day quarantine for his Lakers, James reveals he is spending his time in isolation studying film from a handful of all-time greats, including Bryant.

Part I: The Kobe Timeline: Remembering the fallen Lakers legend, from tragedy to triumph

Part III: The Kobe Timeline, April-October 2020: First-ballot Hall of Fame nod, birthday tributes and Lakers' 17th NBA title

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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