On Monday morning, the Staples Center housed more roses than it did people. 33,643 roses, to be exact — one for each point the late Kobe Bryant scored in his 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
A lot have words have prefaced Bryant’s name in the past. Though, it wasn’t until 31 days ago that “late” was one of them.
On Jan. 26, Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died after their helicopter crashed into a mountainside in Los Angeles. On Monday, the Staples Center hosted a public memorial service to honor the late-great and his daughter. Nearly 20,000 people packed into the Home of the Lakers to bid Kobe and Gianna farewell.
Shortly after 11 a.m. PT, Vanessa Bryant was introduced as she made her way to the lectern. After being married to Kobe since 2000 and bearing four of his children, Vanessa Bryant was just 30 days removed from being widowed when she eulogized her husband and daughter for the entire world to see. And she did so with grace and strength that could only come from someone with Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality”. Or, in this case, “MOMba Mentality”.
Vanessa praised her late-husband for being the “MVP of girl dads” before moving on to remember her daughter Gianna, who she said would go on to become the best player in the WNBA.
Gripping a balled-up tissue in her right hand and holding creased pieces of paper with her left, Vanessa cadenced through the eulogies, catching the occasional tear with her fingertips. Vanessa stood at the lectern for seven minutes before delivering a heartbreaking farewell.
23 and 34 remember 24
Before there was Kobe, there was Michael Jordan. And from 1996-2003, the two basketball legends shared the league. And though the two shared the floor just eight times, Jordan made it clear on Monday that he and Kobe shared much more.
A “big brother”, Michael Jordan called himself in relationship to Kobe, as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Eliciting laughter and applause from those in the Staples Center, including Vanessa Bryant, Jordan wiped his tears and joked about what Kobe Bryant “does to (him)”.
Michael Jordan jokes about the Crying Jordan meme pic.twitter.com/9KpSdSg3qg
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 24, 2020
Replacing one legend with another, Bryant’s former teammate Shaquille O’Neal towered over the lectern after Jordan. O’Neal, who played with Kobe for eight years in LA, including three championship-winning seasons, told humorous anecdotes and made tender promises.
“But for now, I take comfort in the fact that as we speak, Kobe and Gigi are holding hands, walking to the nearest basketball court,” O’Neal said. “Kobe will show her some new Mamba moves today. And Gigi will soon master them. Kobe, you’re heaven’s MVP. I love you, my man. Till we meet again. Rest in peace, Kobe.”
While Kobe was the more high-profile figure, the memorial service, which was hand-constructed by Vanessa and the Bryant family, made sure that Gianna would be honored just the same.
Gianna Bryant, 13, often went by Gigi. Taking after her father, she was drawn to the game of basketball. Gianna wore No. 2 on her jersey. As a result, Vanessa and the Bryant family made it a point to have the memorial service on Feb. 24, or 2/24, to honor both Gianna and Kobe by way of their jersey numbers.
In addition to Vanessa, Diana Taurasi, Geno Auriemma and Sabrina Ionescu also eulogized the late father and daughter.
Taurasi, Auriemma and Ionescu are all icons in the sport Gianna loved — women’s basketball. Taurasi, a former UCONN women’s basketball player, and Auriemma, the women’s basketball coach at UCONN, help epitomize everything Gigi wanted in a basketball career — including being a UCONN Husky.
At Kobe Bryant's memorial, WNBA superstar Diana Taurasi shared sweet memories of Gianna Bryant, joked about LeBron and promised to carry on Gigi's legacy. More here: https://t.co/0ZBA0UYsg3 pic.twitter.com/ngUKjBr2rI
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) February 25, 2020
Auriemma, who now will never have the opportunity to recruit Gianna Bryant, praised Kobe for the way he stepped away from his daughter, so as not to overshadow her.
Likewise, Sabrina Ionescu, who hours after the memorial service became the first player (male or female) in Division I basketball to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists, recalled a fond memory of the daddy-daughter duo.
The Missing Piece
Monday’s memorial service marked what seemed to have been the last step in remembering Kobe and Gigi. However, there’s no doubt that families, friends and well-wishers will continue to grieve. After all, there will forever be a Kobe and Gianna shaped absence in the world.