While Australia slept, 20,000 family, colleagues, friends and fans piled into the Staples Centre in Los Angeles to pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Beyoncé opened the memorial performing XO (one of Kobe’s favourite songs) and her 2008 hit song, Halo, and Vanessa Bryant shared a tribute to her husband and daughter, that had everyone in standing ovation.
“Thank you all so much for being here, it means so much to us,” Vanessa, 37, told the crowd.
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming today. The outpouring of love and support that my family has felt from around the world has been so uplifting.”
Starting by honouring her daughter, she called Gianna her, “baby girl” while calling her “an amazingly sweet and gentle soul.”
“She was always thoughtful. She was daddy’s girl but I know she loved her mamma. She was one of my very best friends.”
“She was competitive like her dad but Gianna had a sweet grace. Her smile was like sunshine,” she added.
“Kobe always said she was me — she had my fire, my personality and sarcasm, but she was tender and loving on the inside.”
“Kobe and Gianna naturally gravitated towards each other. She had Kobe’s ability to listen to a song and have all the lyrics memorised after listening to the song a couple of times. It was their secret talent.”
Vanessa called her daughter “maternal” before going on to say that she “would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA,” a sentiment which was met with applause.
“She would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball. Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women.”
“We will not be able to see Gianna go to highschool with Natalia… we didn’t get the chance to teach her how to drive a car,” she said.
“I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day. I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy … or have babies of her own. I miss you, all of you, every day.”
Vanessa then spoke of her husband, her “soulmate”.
“He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words.”
“I have no idea how I deserved a man who loved or wanted me more than Kobe. We loved each other with our whole beings, two perfectly imperfect people making a beautiful family and raising our sweet and amazing girls.”
Calling Kobe the “MVP of girl dads, or MVD”, he “never left the toilet seat up” and always told his daughters “how beautiful and smart” they were.
“He taught them how to be brave. He had a tender heart.”
“But I want my daughters to know the amazing person, husband and father he was,” she said. “The kind of man who wanted to teach the future generations to be better… he taught us all valuable lessons about life and sports… we’re so thankful he left those lessons and stories behind for us.”
To conclude the speech, she spoke of both Kobe and Gianna as a “team”.
“They were so easy to love. Everyone naturally gravitated toward them. 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 heaven together,” she said, before talking to her husband: “Babe, you take care of our Gigi… we’re still the best team.”
The memorial was held on February 24 2020, a date that had more meaning than just numbers — Gianna’s number two jersey and Kobe’s number 24.
Others who paid homage to Kobe and Gianna were basketballer Michael Jordan, singer Alicia Keys, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi and comedian Jimmy Kimmel.
Supported by the basketball community, legends of the sport in attendance were Shaquille O’Neal, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Bill Russell, Sabrina Ionescu, Diana Taurasi, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade.
The public memorial comes only a few weeks after the family held a private funeral on February 7 at Pacific View Memorial Park and Mortuary in Corona Del Mar, California.
Kobe and Gianna, along with seven others, died in a helicopter crash on January 26.