The widow of famed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and budding prodigy Gianna Bryant had been invisible and sparsely making Instagram post since that infamous day of January 26, 2020.
Vanessa Bryant, more than any other person, lost the most when her 13-year old daughter and doting husband of 20 years Kobe succumbed in that tragic helicopter crash that took their lives and seven others.
However, that all changed when “A Celebration of Life” honoring the victims was held at Staples Center on Monday February 24, 2020 nearly a month to the day that the Southern California region and basketball universe was dramatically altered forever.
While it was promoted as a celebration of life, it was essentially a memorial as Vanessa donned an all black knee length dress and most of the other famous VIPs were also wearing black.
Of the three memorials held at the arena that was built to host the Lakers, professional hockey, boxing matches and concerts there was something that distinguished each of them.
With Michael Jackson it was his pure iconic celebrity, with Nipsey Hussle it was the raw urban community that personified him and with Kobe it was the exquisite detail that was orchestrated by Vanessa.
Even in her riveting grief that punctuated her silence before, much like her late husband during his illustrious soon to be Hall of Fame career, Vanessa was dynamically in charge of the celebration that reflected upon the other victims was dominated by thoughts of Gianna and Kobe.
Many had pondered when the public celebration for Kobe and Gianna would be held, especially after both were buried in a private ceremony on February 7th, but all respected the space of his broken widow.
The memorial for Kobe was royal, regal and detailed just as Vanessa planned it, from the date 2.24.2020, 2 for Gianna’s Mamba uniform number, 24 for Kobe’s uniform number and eerily 2020 because that’s how long Kobe played for the Lakers and how long Vanessa and Kobe were wed and to the length it would last, about two hours. It was all Vanessa, and by gosh it was beautiful.
When she gingerly walked to the stage at Staples, a gulping silence ensued, and then for the first time she spoke.
She began “I’d like to talk about both Kobe and Gigi,” as the first speaker.
The surreal occasion would not allow for her to revel about her daughter in the past tense.
“I’ll start with my baby girl first,” she began. “My baby girl Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet, gentle soul. … She would always kiss me good night, kiss me good morning.”
While many recognize Gianna as a future basketball star, Vanessa reminded us that she was a smart, loving and caring person.
“Last August, she made a beautiful birthday cake for daddy,” she said. “It had fondant and looked like it had blue agate crystals. … She made the best chocolate chip cookies. … She loved watching cooking shows and “Cupcake Wars” with me. … She loved watching “Survivor” and NBA games on TV with her daddy. … She also loved watching Disney movies with her sisters.”
As she clutched a white tissue she explained she would not be able to see GiGi as she was affectionately known attend high school with her sister, go on the University of Connecticut and then revolutionize the WNBA. She and Kobe would not be able to walk their daughter down the aisle in marriage and have children. It was beyond emotional as anyone who saw or heard could immediately connect to their own child.
Vanessa described Kobe as her soul mate, he was as she said, “he was Kobe-Kobe, my boo-boo, my bay boo, my papi chulo.”
As tears flowed and her think black silky hair partially covered her face, the mourners in the crowd such as former Kobe teammate and head coach Byron Scott from Inglewood was in uncontrollable sadness, crying profusely.
The parents of Kobe also emerged from the shadows of the murky, rather unexplainable relationship with his daughter-in-law and son to attend the memorial, and for the most part sat emotionless. Joe frequently closed his eyes during the ceremony.
Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel served as the MC, but the usually funny comedian was also visibly grief stricken.
Beyonce, who has been receiving backlash for not allowing photographers to take pictures of her, performed two of Kobe’s favorite songs “XO” and “Halo” and encouraged the crowd to join her in serenading “XO”.
Michael Jordan, still considered the greatest basketball player of all time, referenced Kobe as his little brother and reminisced on early morning phone calls he received from the fallen great.
“Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends,” Jordan told the crowd. “But we were very close friends. Kobe was my dear friend. He was like a little brother.”
“As we grew up in life [we] rarely have friends that we can have conversations like that,” Jordan explained of his bond with Bryant. “Well, it’s even rarer when you can go up against adversaries and have conversations like that.”
It was a Jordan that few had ever witnessed, heartfelt, pure and sadness.
Shaquille O’Neal started his speech in a somber tone.
“When I imagine speaking to a group of people about Kobe Bryant, I usually picture the context of his Hall of Fame induction or as a guest speaker at one of Kobe and Vanessa’s Foundation events. But never, ever could I have imagined that I’d be here today speaking at his memorial. And it pains me to my core. Like all of you, I continue to be devastated by the loss of my friend, my little brother Kobe Bryant and my beautiful niece Gigi.”
Later towards the end, Shaq would cut the sadness with a statement that garnered laughter.
“The day Kobe gained my respect was, the guys were complaining, said, “Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball.” I said, “I’ll talk to him.” I said, “Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” He said, “I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in that motherf—.” So I went back and told Rick and Big Shot Bob, I said, “Just get the rebound, he’s not passing it.”
Shaq was among other former Laker greats such as Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Rick Fox who was rumored to be aboard the fallen helicopter and scores of current NBA players and coaches including those MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and DeMar DeRozan all of whom grew up idolizing Kobe in Los Angeles.
However, make no mistake about it that this was about Vanessa, attempting to normalize a tragedy that has engulfed a nation and ripped the hearts out of scores of Kobe and Lakers fans.
But it was also about innocent children those lost and still on earth.
Kobe close friend and the Godfather of Gianna, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka
revealed that around 30 minutes before Bryant died he was in church when he received a text message from his friend.
Bryant had texted Pelinka to ask if he knew a baseball agent based in southern California. The former Laker wanted to help secure an internship with the agent for the daughter of one of his friends.
Pelinka said Bryant was trying to help the surviving daughter of John Altobelli, who coached baseball at Orange Coast College and also died in the crash. The day following the memorial, it was revealed that super agent Scott Boras had granted Kobe’s request.