Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant delivers heart-wrenching eulogy to late husband and daughter
AT the time this story is published, it will have been exactly a month since beloved Los Angeles Laker and NBA legend Kobe Bryant tragically died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old prodigal daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant and seven other individuals on January 26.
It was a Sunday, a day that felt stuck out of time and of which the impact continues a month later.
Since then, L.A. Live has been the nerve center for grieving fans with some 350,000 people visiting and leaving a sea of flowers, candles, basketballs, jerseys and shoes and personalized messages.
The solemn aura of the city, especially downtown, has yet to lift, and the public memorial at Staples Center on Monday, February 24 included Bryant’s family, fellow retired NBA players like Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez and 20,000 fans, many of whom called off of work to pay respects to the Black Mamba.
Fans began lining up at the crack of dawn on Monday morning although the service was set to begin at 10 a.m.
Filipino American construction worker Gil Guevara took the day off and allowed his two kids to skip school to attend the once in a lifetime memorial.
“We got there around six in the morning, and the line was already wrapping around Olympic [Boulevard],” Guevara, 41, told the Asian Journal in a phone interview after the memorial. “We all wished this memorial wasn’t happening and that we wouldn’t be feeling this way. To be honest, I’ve not fully healed, and I don’t think I will for a while.”
Inside the Staples Center, a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage was framed with 33,643 red roses, each one representing every point the Black Mamba scored throughout his unforgettable 20-year career as a lifetime Laker. The memorial opened up with Beyonce Knowles-Carter performing her song “XO” — “one of [Bryant’s] favorite songs,” she said — in front of Bryant’s family.
The esteemed list of speakers included NBA legends like Michael Jordan, who referred to Bryant as his “little brother” and late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel, who articulated the overall feeling following the deaths of the nine people on board the helicopter on that fateful Sunday.
Kimmel, whose LA-based show frequently hosted Bryant as a guest, said that it was difficult to find a silver lining amid the tragedy saying, “The best thing I was able to come up with is this: gratitude. It seems to me that all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them and for the time we have left with each other.”
But among all the speakers and speeches of the day, none was more emotional than the eulogy delivered by Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow and mother of Gianna.
“I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player. He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children,” the widowed Bryant said, calling her late husband an “MVP of girl dads.”
Through tears, she shared memories of her late husband and daughter, noting Gianna’s intelligence and inherent skill on the basketball court. Gianna, who played for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team coached by her dad, showed exemplary skill on the basketball court and was poised to carry on her father’s legacy, and
“Gigi would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA,” Vanessa Bryant proudly said. “She would have made a huge difference. She would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball. Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women in sports. She wrote papers in school defending women and wrote about how the unequal pay difference for the NBA and the WNBA leagues weren’t fair.”
Bryant’s remarks hit home for fans whose experience of losing Bryant, although respectively intimate and meaningful, were vastly different from that of his wife and daughters.
“Hearing Vanessa’s words,” Guevara said, pausing for a few seconds before continuing. “That was the hardest part. Nobody could ever imagine what she’s going through, and I thought it was brave of her to come here and share these intimate memories with us. I think we get so worked up thinking about Kobe as the iconic athlete, but we forget that he had a family, a wife, kids, a normal everyday life as a husband and father.”
As previously written in the Asian Journal, Bryant established himself as a cultural mayor of Los Angeles that began in that historic trade between the Lakers and the Charlotte Hornets that brought the young 16-year-old draft pick to LA in 1996.
For the next 24 years, Bryant’s impact on the city was undeniably enormous, from aiding the team through the 3-peat years of the early aughts to mentoring his younger teammates as a captain toward the tail end of his career.
It’s been said many times: Kobe Bryant was more than just a marvelous basketball player. He was the symbol of resilience and diligence. He was the Black Mamba.
“It still hurts like it did when I first found out, and I think as Lakers fans, die-hard Lakers fans, it’ll hurt for a long time,” said Ernie Pascal of Gardena, California.
“If you grew up in SoCal then you know how much this guy meant to us,” Pascal added. “Even if you’re not an athlete or whatever, Kobe was a hero. There’s nobody like him, and there won’t be anyone like him ever again.”