Kobe Bryant’s wife has offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter at a sold-out memorial service after they were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.
Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband’s devotion as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at the Staples Centre to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Ms Bryant said. “He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
The service took place at the central LA arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.
The ceremony began with Beyonce performing her songs XO and Halo with dozens dozens of back-up musicians.
After chat show host Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Ms 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. “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.”
The crowd included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol. NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and dozens of current NBA players including Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook.
Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez also attended.
Chicago Bulls great Jordan, whose career was wrapping up as Bryant’s was starting in the late 1990s, praised him as “one of my dear friends. He was like a little brother. As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be”.
O’Neal and Bryant joined the Lakers together in 1996, and they won three consecutive championships during eight tumultuous seasons in purple and gold.
Although their relationship was often publicly rocky, O’Neal said the two were always friendly in private, even comparing their dynamic to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
“Kobe and I pushed each other to play some of the greatest basketball of all time,” he said. “I’m proud nobody has accomplished what the ‘threepeat’ Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it.”
The concourse was a sea of people dressed in the team colours of purple and yellow and others in black. On the scoreboard, the Bryant family’s life flashed by in pictures.
Money from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programmes in under-served communities and teaches sports to girls and women.
Bryant’s death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement.
Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside the Staples Centre to commiserate after the crash.
A private funeral was held for Bryant and Gianna in Orange County on February 7.