Vanessa Bryant became the strongest woman in the world Monday in Los Angeles.
Not known for being in the media spotlight, Bryant stepped on stage in front of a packed Staples Center and delivered a moving eulogy about her husband, Kobe, and her daughter, Gigi, about a month after the two were tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others.
Bryant recalled Gigi as a sweet and thoughtful girl who always kissed her mother goodnight and looked up to her father. She remembered watching baking shows with her and how she loved the game of basketball, even offering to teach the boys at her high school a few tips.
She said Gigi would have been the best player in the WNBA – something which was echoed by WNBA great Diana Taurasi and Oregon Ducks star Sabrina Ionescu.
“I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day, never get to see my baby walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own," Bryant said. "Gianna would have been an amazing mommy. She was very maternal ever since she was really little. Gigi would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA.”
She talked about the impact she believed Gigi already made in the WNBA.
“She would have made a huge difference. She would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball,” Bryant said. “Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed women in sports. She wrote papers in school defending women, wrote about how the unequal pay difference for the NBA and the WNBA leagues wasn’t fair.
“And I truly feel she made positive changes for the WNBA players now, since they knew Gigi’s goal was to eventually play the WNBA. I’m still so proud of Giana. She made a difference and was kind to everyone she met and the 13 years she was here on Earth, her classmates shared many fond memories about Gianna with us, and those stories reminded me that Gianna loved and showed everyone that no act of kindness is ever too small to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Vanessa Bryant then talked about her husband – NBA legend Kobe Bryant. She said she didn’t see him as a celebrity or basketball great but as her best friend and protector.
“He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was mine. He was my everything,” she said. “Kobe and I have been together since I was 17 and a half years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant, and his protector. He was the most amazing husband ... more than I could ever express or put into words. He was the early bird, and I was the night owl. I was fire, he was ice and vice versa at times. We balanced each other out. He would do anything for me. I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe.”
She described her husband as a devoted father who had a tender heart and was “the MVP of girl dads.”
She said that even though Kobe and Gigi were up in heaven, she still had the best team down on Earth, with her and their three other children.
“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other. He had to bring them home to Heaven together. Babe, you take care of our GiGi, and I got Nani, BB and Coco. We are still the best team. We love and miss you Booboo and Gigi. May you both rest in peace, and have fun in Heaven. Until we meet again. We love you both, and miss you. Forever and always. Mommy.”
A contingent of NBA greats were in the arena for the memorial, including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss were also in attendance.
Bryant spent his entire career with the Lakers after the team acquired him from the Charlotte Hornets for Vlade Divac in the summer of ’96. Bryant won five NBA titles with the Lakers and finished his career third all-time in points before LeBron James passed him around the time of his death.
A private funeral was held for the Bryants in Orange County on Feb. 7.