Kobe Bryant’s wife has offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter at a sold-out memorial service for the two, who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.
- Vanessa Bryant, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal were among the speakers at a public memorial for Kobe
- Thousands of fans attended the memorial, and many more gathered outside the Staples Centre in LA
- Vanessa Bryant lodged a wrongful death lawsuit which alleges the helicopter pilot was negligent and failed to use ordinary care in piloting the aircraft
Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband’s devotion as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Centre to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Vanessa Bryant said.
“He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
Earlier in the day, Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the company that operated the helicopter.
The service took place at the downtown arena where Kobe played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 years of his two-decade NBA career.
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 program.
After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Vanessa Bryant remembered the family’s life with Gianna and her three siblings and then eulogised her husband. They had been together since 1999.
“He was the most amazing husband,” she said.
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“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.”
Shaquille O’Neal said he and his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant had a complex relationship but that they always respected each other and never took things too seriously.
He recalled an early conflict with Bryant, who wasn’t passing as much as O’Neal would’ve liked. O’Neal said he told Kobe: “There’s no ‘I’ in team”.
Kobe responded: “Yeah, but there’s a ‘M-E’,” followed by an expletive. The crowd roared with laughter.
NBA legend Michael Jordan said that “when Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died”. He urged people to use the inspiration of Bryant’s life for their own.
Jordan said once when he visited the Lakers locker room, Kobe asked him: “Did you bring your shoes?” Jordan said it was just a social call, but Bryant was ready for one-on-one.
The mourners included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined Jordan, Phil Jackson and dozens of current NBA players, including Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles natives James Harden, Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan.
Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez also attended.
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 her 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.
Holding homemade heart-shaped “Kobe” and “Gigi” signs, 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,” she said.
“I grew up watching him on the screen. … It made me realize he’s more than just that guy out on the court.”
The concourse was a sea of people dressed in Lakers colours of purple and yellow and others in black. On the scoreboard, the Bryant family’s life flashes by in pictures.
At the arena, fans were given a program 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 — Kobe’s nickname was Black Mamba — which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.
Symbolic meanings ran throughout the ceremony, which was held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant chose February 24 as the date in honour of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore number 2 on her youth basketball teams.
A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County earlier in the month.
Helicopter pilot accused of ‘negligent conduct’
Vanessa Bryant has sued the company that operated the helicopter that crashed and killed her husband, 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ms Bryant in Los Angeles said the pilot was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions and should have aborted the flight.
The lawsuit was filed as the public memorial service for was being held.
The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleged that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, who also died in the accident, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft,” the Los Angeles Times said.
The lawsuit alleged the deaths of Bryant and the others were the direct result of “negligent conduct of Zobayan,” making Island Express Helicopters “vicariously liable in all respects”.
Zobayan violated federal flight rules in 2015 when he flew into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport despite being ordered not to by air traffic control, according to records from the Federal Aviation Administration obtained by the LA Times.
The company issued a statement on January 30 on its website saying the shock of the crash had prompted it to suspend service until it was appropriate for staff and customers.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash into a hillside in Calabasas on the outskirts of Los Angeles County.
The helicopter crashed on January 26 while en route to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, for a youth basketball event.
Moments before the crash, the pilot had tried to climb out of a layer of clouds, but the aircraft then banked sharply and lurched toward the ground.
The twin-engine Sikorsky S-76B slammed into a hillside 60 seconds later and burst into flames, killing all nine people on board, according to details revealed by federal aviation safety officials.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimated Bryant’s luxury passenger helicopter hit the ground at a speed of more than 610 metres per minute.
“This is a pretty steep descent at high speed,” NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy told a briefing in Calabasas, a town adjacent to the crash scene about 65 kilometres north-west of downtown Los Angeles.
Radar data showed the helicopter had ascended to 2,300 feet then began a left descending turn before air traffic control lost contact with it.
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