Last month, basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, were tragically killed in a helicopter crash while flying over the city of Calabasas, California. Seven other people, including the pilot, were also killed in the crash. On February 24, the public was able to mourn and honor their lives with “A Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant,” an open memorial service held at Los Angeles’s Staples Center, a.k.a. “the house that Kobe built.” The service included moving speeches from Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and his close friends and colleagues, including fellow NBA legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. Beyoncé made a surprise appearance to begin the memorial with a custom medley of “XO” and “Halo”; Christina Aguilera later performed “Ave Maria” in Italian. If you couldn’t hop on a cross-country flight to pay your respects to the duo in person or watch via livestream, here’s how the “Celebration of Life” unfolded.
Beyoncé opened the celebration with moving renditions of “XO” and “Halo.”
Queen Bey honored Black Mamba by singing for fans and loved ones at the memorial. “I’m here ’cause I love Kobe and this is one of his favorite songs,” she told the crowd, singing “XO.” “So, I wanna start that over but I want us to do it all together and I want you to sing it so loud that they can hear your love.” At the end of both songs, she shared a heartwarming look with Vanessa Bryant in the audience.
Jimmy Kimmel broke down in tears honoring Bryant.
The late-night host already dedicated an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live to the Los Angeles legend. But his love for Bryant overflowed at the “Celebration of Life” as he remarked upon Bryant’s enormous impact on the world. “Everywhere you go, you see his face, his number, Gigi’s face, Gigi’s number,” he teared up. “Everywhere, at every intersection, there are hundreds of murals painted by artists that were inspired not because he was a basketball player but because Kobe was an artist, too.” Kimmel also made recurring appearances throughout the service, introducing several guest speakers.
Vanessa Bryant told the world a little more about her baby girl, Gianna.
Bryant had the heartbreaking job of eulogizing her husband and her daughter on Monday. Outside of her family, Gianna Bryant was already changing the world for girls who love basketball. Inside her family, Vanessa Bryant remembers a sensitive, sweet daddy’s girl. Gianna was the one who always remembered to kiss her mom good-bye and loved to bake treats for her sisters. “She always kept our family together,” Bryant shared. “She loved family traditions. Family movie night and game night on vacations were important to her.” She was a great student and an even better daughter. “We loved each other so much,” Bryant cried. “I miss her so much.”
Vanessa Bryant shared her movie-worthy love story.
Vanessa Bryant started dating Kobe when she was 17 and a half years old. Over the years, they had ups and downs, welcomed four girls into the world, and still found ways to be romantic. “He gifted me the actual notebook and the blue dress Rachel McAdams wore in The Notebook movie,” she said. “When I asked him why he chose the blue dress, he said it was because it’s the scene when Allie comes back to Noah. We had hoped to grow old together like the movie. We really had an amazing love story.”
Alicia Keys performed “Moonlight Sonata,” which Kobe learned to play by ear.
Los Angeles Lakers general manager and Kobe Bryant’s close friend Rob Pelinka shared a special anecdote about Bryant’s dedication. Once, while traveling and having a hard time sleeping without his wife, Bryant looked at the grand piano in his hotel room just sitting underneath the moonlight and decided to learn Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” by ear. And a few days later, he knew it. Alicia Keys honored him at the “Celebration of Life” by playing “Moonlight Sonata” on a purple grand piano.
Michael Jordan became another crying meme and Shaquille O’Neal laughed about his sarcastic old friend.
While breaking down in tears during his remarks, Michael Jordan remembered that the last time he cried so publicly, it became a huge meme. “Now he’s got me — I’m gonna have to look at another crying meme,” he laughed. “I told my wife I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to see that for the next three to four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”
Shaq remembered the sarcastic and — let’s just say — independent player Bryant was. “The day Kobe gained my respect … the guys were complaining, ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” he recalled from his days on the Lakers. “I said, ‘I’ll talk to him.’ I said ‘Kobe, there’s no ‘I’ in team.’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an ‘M-E’ in that motherfucker.’” That got Magic Johnson, Dwyane Wade, and Steph Curry laughing.
Christina Aguilera sang “Ave Maria” in Italian, Bryant’s second language.
Describing Christina Aguilera singing “Ave Maria” won’t bring anything to the experience of watching Christina Aguilera sing “Ave Maria.” The pop star used her iconic voice to honor the basketball player in his second language, Italian. Bryant grew up in Italy while his father played professional basketball there, and he carried his love for the culture throughout his life.
The memorial ended with Kobe Bryant’s animated short, Dear Basketball.
Kobe Bryant’s Academy Award–winning short Dear Basketball closed out his memorial. Dear Basketball combined his love for hooping with his post-retirement passions. You can rewatch Bryant’s moving ode to the sport online.