Jordan brings house down at Kobe service

Everyone - every single person - that took the stage at a memorial service for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning - spoke beautifully and courageously.

But perhaps the loudest ovation was when the greatest basketball player of all time Michael Jordan took the stage to talk about his "little brother" with tears streaming down his face.

"Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I," Jordan said. "I just wanted to talk about Kobe."

"This kid had passion like you would never know," he added. "When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died."

Jordan brought the house down when he acknowledged the steady flow of tears would likely result in another "Crying Jordan" 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, to huge applause. "That is what Kobe Bryant does to me."

A photograph of Jordan crying during his acceptance speech after being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame is an internet favourite.

Sporting legends, entertainment figures and fans have gathered to pay their respects where Bryant played.

Shaquille O'Neal, who won three championships with Bryant at the Lakers but had a tumultuous relationship with him while they were playing together, also delivered some gold.

"The day Kobe gained my respect was a day the guys were complaining. They said 'Shaq, Kobe's not passing the ball'," O'Neal said.

"I said, 'I'll talk to him'. I said, 'Kobe, there's no I in team'. He said, 'I know, but there's a M-E in that motherf*****'."

Beyonce Knowles - a close friend of Kobe - opened today's service for the basketball legend and his daughter with a stunning rendition of XO.

"I'm here because I love Kobe - and this is one of his favourite songs," Beyonce said.

Backed by a choir, the pop star transitioned to Halo, before Jimmy Kimmel took the stage to speak and battled to fight back tears.

But emotions soared even higher when Vanessa took the stage and began spoking about "Gigi, my baby girl".

"Gianna Bryant is an amazing sweet and gentle soul," Vanessa said. "She always kissed me good night and kissed me good morning."

Vanessa broke down talking about never having the opportunity to teach her daughter to drive a car, get married and have "babies of her own".

"Gianna would have been an amazing mother ... (and) likely would have become the best player in the WNBA," she said. "She would have made a huge difference for women's basketball."

Showing remarkable poise, Vanessa then spoke about her great love, who she met as a 17-year-old. "He was the MVP of girl dads," she said. "He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how smart and beautiful they are."

In closing, she said: "God knew they couldn't be on this Earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together."

Lakers fans filed into Staples Centre hours early to remember Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash last month.

The arena where Bryant played features a stage surrounded by thousands of red roses below the scoreboard that's showing images of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.

Fans arriving for Monday's public memorial service are being given a program that only contains photos, a purple KB pin and a T-shirt with photos of the father and daughter.

The concourse is a sea of purple, gold and black clothing.

Dozens of fans took photos with a mural inside Staples Center of Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal after a championship win.

The memorial is featuring speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant's impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant's on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant's family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant's public life are expected to attend.

Staples Centre is sold out for the memorial. The money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion's two retired jersey numbers - 8 and 24 - hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before Bryant's death.

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 Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.

Janel Alexander, 55, of Encino, poses next to a mural that features Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
Janel Alexander, 55, of Encino, poses next to a mural that features Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's wife and Gianna's mother, chose Feb. 24 as the date in honour of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.

A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.

REMEMBERING THE LIVES LOST

The six passengers travelling with Bryant and his daughter in the helicopter that crashed into a Southern California mountainside last month were joined by their love of basketball.

Among them, two teammates of Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, a coach with a rising profile in girls' basketball and three parents of basketball-crazed children.

Their pilot, who was taking them to a basketball tournament, was a veteran flyer whose friends and customers said was exactly the guy a passenger would want at the controls.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant: Kobe Bryant liked to tell the story of how fans would approach to ask the father of four daughters when he was going to have a son who could carry on his basketball legacy. His precocious 13-year-old would respond, saying, "Oy, I got this." Gianna Bryant, known as Gigi to family and friends, was infused with the same burning desire for basketball greatness that had driven her father to 18 All- Star Game appearances and five NBA championships during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The pair could sometimes be seen courtside at Lakers games, where Bryant, his arm around her, would explain the intricacies of a sport he'd dedicated himself to since age 6, determined to become one of its greatest players. Four years into retirement, Bryant, 41, had moved into a second career as a storyteller and advocate for women's sports. He'd won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short film "Dear Basketball" and was taking his daughter, a budding basketball star herself, to a girls tournament sponsored by the Mamba Sports Academy he'd co-founded two years before.

Vanessa, Kobe, Gianna and Natalia Bryant. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Vanessa, Kobe, Gianna and Natalia Bryant. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli: John Altobelli was a renowned figure in college baseball. Altobelli, 56, had led his Orange Coast College baseball team to more than 700 victories and four state championships during a 27-year career that earned him national coach of the year honours in 2019 from the American Baseball Coaches Association.

Basketball was his 14-year-old daughter Alyssa's sport, however, and she was a teammate of Gianna Bryant who hoped to some day play college ball. She also loved animals, according to friends, so much so that she took home turtles from her school's science class if she feared they were being mistreated. Friends remembered her 46-year-old mother, Keri, as a dedicated mom and wife who made it a point to attend all of her children's games, joking that she'd sat in a particular spot in the bleachers so many times she should have a plaque there with her name engraved on it.

Bryant, friends with Altobelli, had offered him and his family a ride on the helicopter that day so he could beat traffic to the tournament. The Altobellis are survived by two other children.

Sarah and Payton Chester: Sarah Chester, a former college volleyball player, was travelling to the game with her 13-year-old daughter, Payton, who was also a teammate of Gianna Bryant. Payton played on both the Mamba girls team and for St. Margaret's Episcopal School, where she was an eighth-grader and her 45-year-old mother was a member of the board of trustees. Payton, her father said, had hoped to play in the WNBA someday. "She found joy on any court and loved all of her teammates and coaches," he said shortly after her death. Of his wife he said, "Sarah was full of life and the glue of our family."

Christina Mauser: Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of the Mamba girls team travelling that day to the Mamba Cup tournament in Thousand Oaks, was establishing herself as a superior basketball coach. Kobe Bryant had personally recruited her for his Mamba Sports Academy after seeing her coach girls basketball at the private school in Southern California that his daughter attended. Mauser, 38, had been a star athlete herself, in volleyball and basketball, at Huntington Beach's Edison High School, where she was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. A wife and mother of three, Mauser drew praise from players, several of whom called her a second mom.

Ara Zobayan standing outside a helicopter. (Group 3 Aviation via AP, File)
Ara Zobayan standing outside a helicopter. (Group 3 Aviation via AP, File)

Ara Zobayan: When you went up in a helicopter, people said, Ara Zobayan was the guy you'd want at the controls. He not only greeted everyone with a big grin but was one of the most experienced helicopter pilots around, with top ratings and more than 8,200 hours of flight time amassed over two decades. "That's a guy who you ask for to fly you from city to city," said Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard. He often flew with Zobayan, whom he said would tell him from time to time that Bryant had asked him to remember to say hello. Zobayan was chief pilot for Island Express Helicopters and had flown Bryant to another Mamba Cup game the day before. "He was one of their best pilots," Leonard said. The 50-year-old native of Lebanon had fallen in love with helicopters as a teenager after a chopper mechanic who happened to be sitting next to him on an airline flight loaned him a helicopter magazine. It was a love affair sealed a few years later after he took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Soon after he was saving up for flight lessons.

- with AP

 

Alyssa Shapiro, 27, of Huntington Beach, and her father Rick Shapiro, 55, stand outside. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
Alyssa Shapiro, 27, of Huntington Beach, and her father Rick Shapiro, 55, stand outside. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)


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