Los Angeles honours Kobe and Gianna Bryant with public memorial

Vanessa Bryant tearfully praises husband’s devotion to family

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

Vanessa Bryant tearfully praised her husband’s devotion to their family as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at the Staples Centre to remember Bryant and Gianna, 13.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Ms 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 LA Lakers for the final 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.

Thousands of Lakers fans, many wearing Bryant’s jersey number or team colours, attended the gathering to pay tribute to LA's most popular athlete.

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 programme, and Christina Aguilera sang Ave Maria.

The two-hour event ended with Dear Basketball, Bryant's Academy Award-winning short film.

After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Ms Bryant remembered the family’s life with Gianna and her three siblings and then gave a eulogy to 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 LA 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 three-peat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it.”

Female basketball stars Diana Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu later spoke on the podium after Ms Bryant.

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 long-time 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 their families were close.

He also revealed that Bryant had texted him 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 Ms Shapiro 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,” Ms Shapiro said. “I grew up watching him on the screen. It made me realise he’s more than just that guy out on the court.”

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

The service began just hours after Ms 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 programme 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 programmes 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 Centre when it opened in 1999.

The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – hung 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 LA well into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis.

A private funeral was held on February 7 in Orange County.