Beyonce kicked off a star-studded memorial ceremony in Los Angeles on Monday for basketball great Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna who died along with seven others in a helicopter crash last month.
“I’m here because I love Kobe,” said the 70-time Grammy-nominated artist as she launched into one of Bryant’s favorite songs “XO,” dressed in a golden suit — the color of the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant’s team for two decades.
The public memorial — dubbed “A Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant” — was being held at Staples Center, the arena where Bryant wowed fans for 17 years.
The 2/24 date for the memorial carries special significance as it coincides with Bryant’s jersey number — “24” — and Gianna’s “2” jersey number.
Fellow NBA legends Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell were among those attending the memorial along with Bryant family members and fans.
“It’s hard in a two-minute, five-minute time to say everything he meant to the world, to the NBA and to basketball fans. He’s bigger than life,” Johnson said on Sunday.
“And it will take years to get over his passing and his daughter and the seven other people who lost their lives as well.”
– ‘He was my everything’ –
Bryant’s widow Vanessa, paid a tearful tribute to her late husband and daughter, saying she could not fathom life without them.
“He was my everything,” she said, recalling meeting Bryant when she was 17 years old. “He was the most amazing husband.”
She spoke of her heartbreak at not being able to watch Gianna grow up and missing important moments of her life.
“I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day,” she said through tears. “I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy.”
A visibly shaken Jimmy Kimmel also spoke at the ceremony saying he saw Kobe and Gianna’s faces and jersey numbers everywhere in Los Angeles.
Among other celebrities attending the memorial were filmmaker Spike Lee — who was close friends with Bryant and directed a documentary on his life — and rapper Snoop Dogg, an avid Lakers fan.
Many of the fans lucky enough to nab one of the much sought-after 20,000 tickets for the memorial wore the gold and purple colors of the Lakers as they headed for the two-and-a-half hour ceremony being held amid tight security.
“Kobe meant everything for this city, for this team and for me,” said Karen Sanchez, 41, as she waited with friends to enter the arena. “I watched him play from the beginning.”
Marcos Rojas, 23, another ticketholder, said Bryant’s January 26 death near Los Angeles had been devastating to fans like him who worshipped the player.
“For me, it was like losing a friend,” said Rojas who wore a Lakers jersey with Kobe’s number.
“I always watched him playing with my friends,” he told AFP. “I always picked Kobe to play in my video games. I couldn’t leave home the day of his passing.”
Those attending the memorial were given a 24-page program with pictures of Bryant and his family as well as a pin and black T-shirt featuring images of Kobe and his daughter on the back.