Fans around the world tuned in to see Monday's "A Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant," the moving and star-studded tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. The public memorial was held at the Los Angeles Staples Center (aka "the house that Kobe built") and featured their family, peers, and celebrity guests sharing heartfelt words and performing musical numbers to honor the Bryants, along with the seven others who died alongside them in a helicopter crash in January.
Though most the morning's performances and speeches were heartfelt and touching, nothing was more emotional than the moment when Vanessa Bryant bravely took the podium to share stories about her lost husband and daughter, her first public appearance since their tragic accident.
"The outpouring of love and support that my family has felt from around the world has been so uplifting. Thank you so much for all of your prayers," she said to open the speech, noting that she would begin by speaking of her daughter. "My baby girl Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet, gentle soul. She was always thoughtful. She always would kiss me goodnight, kiss me good morning." Bryant later noted, "Gigi would have easily become the best player in the WNBA."
Bryant went on to talk about her relationship with Kobe, whom she'd been with since she was just 17, saying, "Kobe was the MVP of girl dads. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave and how to keep pushing forward when things get tough." She also recounted how romantic their relationship was, noting that he was consistently thoughtful with anniversary and holiday gifts and that he even once bought her the blue dress from The Notebook as a sign of his affection.
"She was thoughtful like him. They were so easy to love. Everyone naturally gravitated towards them," she said to conclude her powerful speech. "They were funny, happy, silly, and they loved life. They were so full of joy and adventure. 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, and I got [Natalia, Bianka and Capri]. We're still the best them. We love and miss you Boo Boo and Gigi. May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always, Mommy."
Other highlights of the memorial included Beyoncé's ceremony-opening performance of "XO," which she noted was Kobe Bryant's favorite song, along with "Halo."
Alicia Keys also performed Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," a piece of music Kobe loved and learned to play on the piano as surprise for Vanessa.
Alicia Keys performing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" at the Kobe & Gianna Celebration of Life.— Steve Mason (@VeniceMase) February 24, 2020
One of Kobe's favorite pieces of music. One he learned to play on the piano as a surprise for Vanessa. pic.twitter.com/4t2UnoBnhK
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel was one of the first celebrities to take the stage and offer a eulogy for the Bryants, along with the seven others lost in their helicopter crash, and he implored everyone to learn from their loss and be grateful for what time we have left.
"Everywhere you go, you see his face" 😢— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) February 24, 2020
-Jimmy Kimmel on Kobe pic.twitter.com/m9WTRauqN5
Michael Jordan also delivered a tearful appreciation of the NBA star, and, through tears, joked that he was aware that he was gifting the world another crying Michael Jordan meme.
"As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother I could be." - Michael Jordan on his relationship with Kobe Bryant https://t.co/btsnvmsxYY— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 24, 2020
Thousands poured into the Staples Center in Los Angeles to attend the memorial, held on a symbolic date that mirrored the jersey numbers worn by Kobe (No. 24), and his daughter Gianna (No. 2), along with the number of seasons (20) played in the NBA for the Lakers. Proceeds from Monday's public ceremony will go to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation.