Vanessa Bryant is overcome with emotion and grief as she addresses family members, friends and fans attending the Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant memorial ceremony at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Vanessa Bryant delivered an emotional tribute to her late husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna during a memorial in Los Angeles on Monday honoring them and seven others who died in a helicopter crash last month.
She recalled Kobe, 41, as a man with a "tender heart" and loving father to their four children and Gianna, 13, as a "sweet and gentle soul" who would have had a promising athletic career ahead of her.
"They were funny, happy, silly and they loved life," she said. "God knew they couldn't be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together."
Vanessa praised the Los Angeles Lakers icon as the best "girl dad" who taught their daughters "how to be brave and keep pushing forward when things get tough."
"I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband and father he was," she said. "The kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes."
She also declared that Gianna would have gone on to be a great mother and would have followed her father's footsteps pursuing a career in basketball and could have been the best player in the WNBA.
"Gigi was sunshine," she said. "She brightened up my day every day."
Former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan recalled his role as a "big brother" figure to Bryant, whom he said would often call him at all hours of the day for advice.
"It was an aggravation. But then it turned into a certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know," Jordan said.
"What Kobe Bryant was to me, was the inspiration that someone truly cared about the way I played the game or the way that he wanted to play the game. He wanted to be the best basketball player he could be and as I got to know him I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be."
Bryant's former teammate Shaquille O'Neal lamented that his life ended too soon and promised to look after his daughters.
"Now it's time for us to continue your legacy," he said. "You said yourself that everything negative, pressure, challenges, are is all an opportunity for me to rise. So we now take that sage advice to rise from anguish and begin with the healing."
Comedian Jimmy Kimmel was on the verge of tears describing his feelings for Bryant, saying, "I don't think any of us could have imagined this."
The memorial began at 10:30 a.m. PST at Staples Center, where Bryant played for most of his entire 20-year NBA career with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.
The event was attended by a roster of all-time NBA greats including Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and former Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jerry West. It began with a musical performance by Beyoncé, who said she was there "because I love Kobe" before performing the song XO.
Alicia Keys also performed her own rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and Christina Aguilera performed a rendition of Ave Maria.
About 20,000 attendees were ticketed for the service Monday.
Screens outside Staples Center were turned off during the event and the outside of the arena, where thousands gathered for days immediately following the crash, was cordoned off to prevent entry from those without tickets.
Kobe and Gianna Bryant; Alyssa, John and Keri Altobelli; Payton and Sarah Chester; Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., as they traveled to a basketball game.
Mourners gathered near the crash site in the days following the crash and the Lakers held a memorial for the victims during the Jan. 31 game against the Portland Trail Blazers. The NBA honored the Bryants during All-Star Weekend by naming the game's MVP trophy after Bryant and had each team wear the numbers 2 and 24 in the Bryants' honor.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board found this month no evidence of engine failure in the crash. No precise cause was listed but the NTSB noted the Sikorsky S-76B chopper was traveling at more than 180 mph and 4,000 feet per minute when it collided with the hillside in Calabasas.
It said the helicopter damage was consistent with "powered rotation" and there was "no evidence of an uncontained or catastrophic internal failure," while its instrument panel was destroyed in the crash and most of the devices were displaced.
The NTSB is still investigating what role, if any, dense fog that morning played in the crash. The final NTSB report isn't expected for at least a year.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the pilot violated flight rules in 2015 after he was denied clearance through Los Angeles International Airport due to weather conditions. The records say he took responsibility for the error, was willing to take "any other necessary steps toward compliance" and was counseled.
"There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan," the report stated.
Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant stands during a time out against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City during a game on January 26, 2014. Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in Calabasas, Calif., on January 26, 2020. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo