Los Angeles is no stranger to earthquakes. But on Jan. 26, the ground shook in way that couldn’t be measured on the Richter scale–a helicopter crashed in Calabasas, claiming the lives of Kobe Bryant, 41; Gianna Bryant, 13; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Payton Chester, 13; Sarah Chester, 45; Christina Mauser, 38; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50. The tragedy was felt throughout our community, with friends and family immediately texting one another. The shockwaves quickly spread throughout the world.
On Feb. 24, roughly 20,000 people from all over the world came together in mourning for the memorial service celebrating the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. In the crowd, men and women from all walks of life–children in strollers, seniors with walkers–locals and non-locals outfitted in Bryant Laker jerseys and graphic t-shirts with the faces of Bryant and Gianna with halos over their heads. The venue was completely sold out. Upon entering, guests were given a bag with a black cotton t-shirt printed with photos of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, a black circular pin with the letters ‘KB’ in yellow, a small pamphlet with pictures, and their ticket for, “A Celebration of Life: Kobe & Gianna Bryant” dated “2.24.20 | 10 a. m.”
The star-studded memorial began with Beyonce Knowles-Carter, wearing a gold suit and purple nail polish that spelled out the names “Kobe” and “Gigi.” Her live performance included “XO” and “Halo.” Behind Beyonce stood a gospel choir in white suits.
Very rarely, there is someone so unique who is able to transcend beyond one community because it could be said he or she belongs to all communities. In many ways, Kobe Bryant was that person.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Italy, Kobe returned to Philadelphia for high school. At his alma mater, Lower Merion High School, grieving fans brought flowers, jerseys, basketballs, and other memorabilia to a memorial.
Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers at age 17, Bryant never left for the entirety of his 20-year basketball career. The 18-time NBA All-Star, Bryant led the Lakers to win five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players in history.
Laker luminaries including Magic Johnson, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor, Michael Cooper, Pau Gasol, Byron Scott, Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and former trainer Gary Vitti were also in attendance. In addition, current Lakers LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee and owner Jeanie Buss were present.
The crowd saw the likes of Bill Russell, one of the greatest Boston Celtics and long- time rival; Dwayne Wade, retired Miami Heat star; and Russell Westbrook, point guard for the Houston Rockets was named the NBA’s MVP in 2016-17. Players who have been booed at Laker home games were welcomed as part of the Laker family. Players who requested to be traded over feuds within teams were sitting somberly together like family.
Michael Jordan was among the people eulogizing Bryant. Even a world-famous NBA legend had a waterfall of tears streaming uncontrollably down his face. “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said in his speech. “And as I look in this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died, or else you wouldn’t be here.” Bryant idolized Jordan since childhood and the two met on the court when Bryant was 18-years-old, during a 1996 Laker-Bulls game. To see a seemingly invincible figure such as Jordan sobbing live was nothing if not stunning.
Angeleno’s notoriously spend a great deal of time driving, and it is impossible to traverse the city without seeing Bryant and Gianna’s face, name, or number. Is it not just basketball fans who are mourning, but thousands upon thousands of people who he inspired. Murals of the father-daughter duo decorate the streets of our city. City busses flash the words “RIP KOBE.” Storefronts have signs that read, “We miss you Kobe and Gigi.” Billboards with a photo of Bryant holding a basketball that say, “Mamba Forever,” and Pink Dot on Sunset Boulevard has painted Bryant and Gianna’s jersey with their respective number on the exterior.
In the same way Bryant belonged to Los Angeles, he belonged to his widow, Vanessa Bryant, and his three daughters left behind: Natalia, 17; Bianka, 3; and Capri, who is less than a year old. On Feb. 24, in her first public appearance since the death of her husband, Vanessa bravely stood before thousands of people at Staples Center and the entire world. Vanessa first eulogized her daughter, Gianna, her baby girl whose life ended at the tender age of 13. She said, “I’ll never get to see my baby girl 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.” Vanessa continued, “Now they [her daughters] won’t have their daddy and sister here to teach them [basketball], and that is truly a loss I do not understand.”
Vanessa then directed her words straight to her late husband, telling him, “We’re still the best team…We love you both and miss you forever and always. Mommy.” Bryant belonged to Vanessa. Bryant belonged to Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri.
Kobe Bryant belonged to many, including our community. Bryant will forever remain in history as first and foremost, our Los Angeles Laker.