Updated February 24, 2020: The official Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the Staples Center is underway. It is an emotional event for everyone attending and watching at home.
The memorial began with a surprise performance from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, a close friend of the Bryant family. Beyoncé opened the celebration by performing "XO," disclosing that she picked the track because it was one of Kobe's favorites. Backed by a choir, Beyoncé transitioned into a brand new rendition of "Halo," complete with new lyrics honoring Kobe and Gianna as angels in heaven.
After Beyoncé's performance, late night host Jimmy Kimmel took the stage. Kimmel was overwhelmed, tearing up as he welcomed the crowd to the memorial. He introduced Vanessa Bryant, and she took the stage to a rousing standing ovation that echoed throughout the Staples Center.
Vanessa first eulogized Gianna, sharing touching personal anecdotes about her second daughter. She shared that Gianna loved to bake, loved to give kisses, and wanted to be the best player in the Women's National Basketball Association. As for Kobe, Vanessa said, he was the best husband and the best "girl dad" ever. Even more than he loved basketball, Kobe loved his family and, more than anything, he wanted to teach his daughters to love sports as much as he did.
Diana Taurasi, nicknamed "the White Mamba" by Kobe himself, spoke next, talking about the late great's influence on her playing style as a WNBA athlete. Taurasi revealed that Kobe was her mentor but also relied on her support to help teach Gianna how to play.
Kobe's idol Michael Jordan spoke on the fallen athlete, revealing that although the media often tried to paint the two as rivals, he and were actually very close friends. "Kobe had a way of getting to you," Jordan said, smiling through tears. "And a way of bringing out the best in you."
Fellow Laker Shaquille O'Neal showed love to Kobe. The friends and teammates may have argued during the course of their relationship, but everyone knew that the pair loved each other.
This story was originally written on February 24, 2020.
A month after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, more tributes to the late NBA icon are pouring in. Throughout his storied 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers, the basketball star was the embodiment of what happens when talent and tireless work ethic come together. Today, as Kobe’s peers remember his impact on the sports world in a special memorial service in the Los Angeles Staples Center, they’re also celebrating the life and drive of his daughter Gianna, who also perished in the helicopter crash. Like Kobe, the 13-year-old possessed a love for the game of basketball as well as the potential to be an ever bigger star than her father.
The ceremony's date, February 24, 2020, is meaningful; 2 for Gianna's jersey number and 24 for the number Kobe wore (he sported the number 8 earlier in his career).
Gianna’s memory is also being kept alive by a close family friend with a unique connection to the teenager: Sydney Leroux. The professional soccer player and Olympic gold medalist tattooed the number brand new tattoo inspired by Gianna, sporting the number that they both wore on their respective jerseys.
Upon learning of the passing of Kobe and Gianna, Leroux penned a touching note on social media. “Gigi you were a star,” the soccer player wrote on Instagram in later January. “Your dad told me that you were going to be better than he was. You had the gift no matter what you were playing."
“I know you’ll be looking down on your mom and your sisters with your big smile while shooting hoops with your dad, doing what you both love," Leroux continued. "2 will always be ours.”
“#2,” Vanessa captioned a shot of the tattoo. “Thank you for honoring my Gigi. I love you @sydneyleroux.”
Leroux’s touching tribute comes hours ahead of today’s huge memorial service for Kobe and Gianna. Put on in conjunction with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, the city of L.A. will be holding a special celebration at Staples Center. The event is open to the public, and the arena will be packed with thousands of Kobe's fans, close friends, and NBA co-workers. Kobe and Gianna's memorial will be begin at 1pm EST, and fans will be able to livestream the entire ceremony.
Today's event will also feature a special display of 33,000 flowers — one flower for each point that the shooting guard scored during his legendary tenure in the NBA.