LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — In a powerful and emotional public memorial Monday at Staples Center — the house Kobe Bryant built — family, friends and NBA legends came together to honor Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven others killed in the tragic plane wreck last month in Calabasas.
The Celebration of Life opened with singer Beyoncé singing her hit “XO,” which she called “Kobe’s favorite song,” followed by a rendition of “Halo.”
Kobe’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, got choked up as she called her daughter Gianna an “amazingly sweet and gentle soul.”
“She was so full of life and had so much more to offer this world,” Vanessa said. “I cannot imagine life without her.”
She then described Bryant as her “soulmate.”
“He was mine, he was my everything since I was 17 1/2 years old,” she said. “I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant and his protector. He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words.”
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” she added.
In a shocking and heartbreaking story, Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka told the crowd that he had been texting with Kobe just minutes before the chopper went down.
Pelinka said he was at church with his family when Kobe had texted him about getting a baseball agency internship for Alexis Altobelli, the surviving daughter of Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, who was killed in the wreck along with Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa.
“Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter,” Pelinka said. “The girl on that text chain that he was wanting to help so badly was Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of Coach John Altobelli, who was also on the helicopter.”
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In attendance were NBA and Lakers royalty: Magic Johnson, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Byron Scott, Dwayne Wade and Metta World Peace. Also there were California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Kim and Kanye Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg, Michael Phelps and LL Cool J.
Comedian Jimmy Kimmel moderated the service.
“Everywhere you go, you see his face, his number, Gigi’s face, Gig’s number, everywhere, at every intersection,” said an emotional Kimmel. “There are hundreds of murals painted by artists who were inspired, not because he is a basketball player who was an artist too.”
WNBA legend Diana Taurasi described how watching Kobe play when she was young inspired her to pursue a career in basketball herself.
“On the few lucky occasions my dad would come home from work — he was a metal sheet worker in Los Angeles — he’d come home with Laker tickets,” Taurasi said. “Watching Kobe play at the Great Western Forum as a rookie made this little girl believe she could be a Laker someday.”
After a song from Alicia Keys, Michael Jordan — who Kobe adored and emulated throughout his own career — took the stage, and with tears in his eyes, described Kobe as his “dear friend” and “little brother.”
“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor.”
Jordan described having countless late-night conversations with Kobe talking about business and basketball. And eliciting one of the day’s biggest laughs, Jordan described how he likely just created another “Crying Jordan” meme.
“And now he’s got me, I’m gonna have to look at another crying meme…I told my wife I wasn’t going to do this, because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years,” Jordan said. “That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”
Shaquille O’Neal — who with Kobe formed arguably one of the greatest duos in sports history– compared their “complex” relationship to that of “John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”
“Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all-time, and I am proud that no other team has accomplished what the three-peat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it.”
The ceremony included playing Kobe’s short film, “Dear Basketball,” which earned him an Oscar in 2018.
More than 100,000 people signed up for tickets to the service, with only 20,000 able to obtain them. Thousands of fans had lined up to get in as early as 6 a.m. Officials had asked fans without tickets to avoid the area.
On the morning of Jan. 26, Kobe, Gianna and seven others were killed when the helicopter they were riding in crashed in the Calabasas hills amid heavy fog.
The helicopter had departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County and was bound for Camarillo, with the passengers on board heading to Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was set to coach Gianna in a tournament game.
In its preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that there was no evidence the chopper’s engines had failed prior to going down.
On Monday morning, lawyers for Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters, the company which operated the crashed helicopter.