Vanessa Bryant calls Kobe 'MVP of girl dads' at public memorial
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant's wife offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter Monday at a sold-out memorial service for the two, who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.
Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband's devotion -- calling him "the MVP of girl dads" -- as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Center to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.
"God knew they couldn't be on this Earth without each other," Vanessa Bryant said. "He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi."
The service took place at the downtown arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.
The ceremony began with Beyonce performing her songs "XO" and "Halo" with dozens dozens of backup musicians.
After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Vanessa Bryant remembered the family's life with Gianna, describing her as a sweet, thoughtful soul who loved always kissing her mother good morning and goodnight.
"Her smile was like sunshine," Vanessa said. "Her smile took up her entire face. Like me. Kobe always said she was like me. She had my fire, my personality and sarcasm. She was tender and loving on the inside. She had the best laugh. She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine."
Vanessa said Gianna loved swimming, singing along with hit songs, baking cookies and watching "Survivor'' and NBA games with her father. She says the 13-year-old loved basketball so much she even offered the boys' school team advice.
Vanessa predicted that Gianna could have become "the best player in the WNBA.''
She then eulogized the husband she had been with since 1999, saying they had planned to renew their vows and often talked about how they looked forward to becoming the "cool grandparents" after their kids have their own children.
"He was the most amazing husband," she said. "Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. I was fire. He was ice. Vice versa at times. ... He was my everything."
The crowd included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joined Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, and dozens of current NBA players, including Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook.
Money from ticket sales was to 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, who moved from the Forum to Staples Center when it 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.
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 honor 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.