They may no longer be here physically, but Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant‘s memories live on with Vanessa Bryant.
During Monday’s public memorial at the Staples Center, Vanessa earned a standing ovation as she stepped up to the podium to deliver a beautiful and emotional speech honoring her late husband and 13-year-old daughter.
“First I’d like to thank everyone for coming today,” she began her moving eulogy. “The outpouring of love and support that my family has felt from around the world has been so uplifting. Thank you so much for all your prayers. I’d like to talk about both Kobe and Gigi. I’ll start with my baby girl Gianna Bryant, an amazingly sweet and gentle soul.”
On Gianna as a person: “Her smile was like sunshine”
“She was always thoughtful,” Vanessa continued. “She always kissed me good night and kissed me good morning. There were a few occasions where I was absolutely tired from being up with Bianka and Capri and thought she had left for school without saying goodbye. I’d text and say, ‘No kiss?’ and Gianna would reply, ‘Mama, you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.’ She knew how much her kiss meant to me and kissed me every day.”
Gigi was, as Vanessa said, her best friend. Together, they baked cakes and chocolate chip cookies. They watched cooking shows, Cupcake Wars, Survivor and the NBA games with her dad. With her sisters, she loved spending days taking in Disney movies. “Gigi was very competitive like her daddy, but Gianna had a sweet grace about her,” Vanessa said. “Her smile was like sunshine. Her smile took up her entire face, like mine. Kobe always said she was me. She had my fire, my personality, and sarcasm. She was tender and loving on the she had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine.”
On her athleticism: “She was very much like her daddy”
While she was a carbon copy of her mom, she also was just like her dad. “She was an incredible athlete,” the proud mom said. “She was great at gymnastics, soccer, softball, dance, and basketball. She was an incredible dancer too. She loved to swim, dance, do cartwheels, and jump into our swimming pool. Gigi was confident, but not in an arrogant way. She loved helping and teaching other people things. At school, she offered the boys basketball coaches to help give the basketball team some pointers. She was very much like her daddy and they both liked helping people learn new things and master them.”
On Gianna as a family member: “She always made sure everyone was OK”
Though she was just 13, she served as a pillar of strength for the Bryants. “She always made sure everyone was OK,” Vanessa admitted. “She always kept our family together. She loved family traditions, family movie night and game night on vacations were important to her. Gigi always looked out for everyone. She was very much in tune with our feelings and wanted the best for us. Gianna was smart. She knew how to read, speak and write Mandarin. She knew Spanish. She had great grades and kept them up all while becoming an incredible basketball player. She was president of school spirit, on student council, director’s assistant for her school plays, just like her big sister.”
Indeed, she was looking forward to following her older sister Natalia to high school next year. “I’m so happy she was given the opportunity to know she was accepted to the same high school,” Vanessa said. “She was really happy. Gianna made us all proud, and she still does. Gianna never tried to conform. She was always herself. She was a nice person, a leader, a teacher, wearing the white tee, black leggings, a denim jacket, white high top converse and a flannel tied around her waist with straight hair was her go-to style. She had so much swag and rhythm ever since she was a baby. She gave the best hugs and the best kisses. She had gorgeous soft lips like her daddy. She would hug me and hold me so tight I could feel her love.”
“I miss her sweet kisses, her cleverness, her sarcasm, her wit and that adorable sly side smile followed with a grin and burst of laughter,” she continued. “Gigi was sunshine. She brightened up my day every day. I miss looking at her beautiful face. She was always so good, a rule follower. I knew I could always count on her to do the right thing.”
On Gianna as a sister: “She happily carried the little diaper bag”
Gigi took her role as big sister very seriously. “She happily carried the little diaper bag or played with them,” Vanessa recalled. “She liked helping me with Bianka and Capri. Bianka loved going to the playground, swimming and jumping on the trampoline with Gigi. I used to tell Gigi that I thought KoKo considered her her favorite sister. Capri would smile from ear to ear when Gigi walked into the room and Capri reminds me a lot of Gianna. They look alike and smile with their whole face. Pure joy.”
On losing Gigi: “I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle”
Now, Vanessa is looking at all the milestones Gigi will not get to experience. “We didn’t get the chance to teach her how to drive a car,” she shared. “I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day. 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. 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 would have made a huge difference for women’s basketball,” she continued. “Gigi was motivated to change the way everyone viewed everyone in sports. She wrote papers in school defending women and wrote about how the unequal pay difference for the NBA and WNBA league wasn’t fair. I truly feel she made positive changes for the WNBA players now. Gigi’s goal was to eventually play in the WNBA. I’m still so proud of Gianna.”
Indeed, she left a lasting mark. “She made a difference and was kind to everyone she met in the 13 years she was here on Earth,” Vanessa praised. “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. She was always, always, always considerate of others and their feelings. She was a beautiful, kind, happy, silly, thoughtful and loving daughter and sister. She was so full of life, and had so much more to offer this world. I can’t for the imagine life without her. We love you so much, Gigi. I will miss your sweet handmade cards, your sweet kisses, and your gorgeous smile. I miss you, all of you, every day. I love you.”
Then, Vanessa began to speak of her “sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children,” Kobe.
On Kobe Bryant: “He was my everything”
“He was mine. He was my everything. Kobe and I had been together since I was 17.5 years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidante and his protector. He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. He was the early bird and I was the night owl. I was fire and he was ice, and vice versa at times. We balanced each other out,” she recalled. “He would do anything for me. I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe. He was charismatic, a gentleman. He was loving, adoring and romantic. He was truly the romantic one in our relationship.”
On Kobe, the romantic: “We had hopes to grow old together”
“I looked forward to Valentine’s Day and our anniversaries every year. He planned special anniversary trips and a special traditional gift for every year of our marriage. He even handmade my most treasured gifts. He just thought outside the box and was so thoughtful even while working hard to be the best athlete,” she shared.
“He gifted me the actual notebook and the blue dress Rachel McAdams wore in The Notebook movie. When I asked him why he chose the blue dress, he said it was because the scene when Ali comes back to Noah. We had hopes to grow old together, like the movie. We really had an amazing love story. We loved each other with our whole beings, two perfectly imperfect people making a beautiful family and raising our sweet and amazing girls. A couple weeks before they passed, Kobe sent me a sweet text and mentioned how he wanted to spend time together, just the two of us without our kids because I’m his best friend first. We never got the chance to do it. We were busy taking care of our girls and just doing our regular everyday responsibilities, but I’m thankful I have that recent text. It means so much to me. Kobe wanted us to renew our vows. He wanted Natalia to take over his company and he wanted to travel the world together.”
On Kobe as a dad: “Kobe was the M.V.P. of girl dads”
The mom of four reflected on Kobe as a dad, telling the filled arena, “We had always talked about you how we’d be the fun grandparents to our daughters’ children. He would have been the coolest grandpa. Kobe was the M.V.P. of girl dads, or M.V.D. He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave, how to keep pushing forward when things get tough. When Kobe retired from the NBA, he took over dropping off and picking up our girls from school since I was at home pregnant with Bianka and recently home nursing Capri. When Kobe was still playing, I showed up an hour early to be the first to pick up Natalia and Gianna up from school. He was late one time, and we most definitely let him know that I was never late. So, he showed up one hour and 20 minutes early after that. He always knew there was room for improvement and wanted to do better.
She continued, “He happily did carpool and enjoyed spending time in the car with our girls. He was a doting father, a father that was hands-on and present. He helped me bathe Bianka and Capri almost every night. He would sing them silly songs in the shower and continue making them laugh and smile as he lathered them in lotion and got them ready for bad. He had magic arms and could put Capri to sleep in only a few minutes. He had it down to a science—eight times up and down our hallway. He loved taking Bianka to watch her play in the koi pond area and loved taking her to the park. The most recent visit to the koi pond was the evening before he and Gigi passed. He shared a love of movies and breakdown of films with Natalia, enjoy taking Natalia to watch the newest films and they would have movie marathons and he enjoyed every second of it. He loved the typical tearjerkers, too. He like watching Stepmom, Steel Magnolias and Little Women.”
On Kobe as a basketball dad: “He loved being Gianna’s basketball coach”
“He had a tender heart. Kobe somehow knew where I was at all times. Specifically when I was late to his games. He would worry about me if I wasn’t in my seat at the start of the of each game, and would ask security where I was at the first time-out of the first quarter. My smart a$% would tell him he wasn’t going to drop 81 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. I think anyone with kids understands that sometimes you can’t make it out the door on time. Eventually he was used to my tardiness and balled out. The fact that he could play on an intense professional level and still be concerned by making sure we made it to the game sufficiently was just another example of how family came first to him. He loved being Gianna’s basketball coach. He told me he wished he would have convinced Natalia to play basketball, that they could have spent even more time together. But, he also wanted her to pursue her own passion. He’d watch Natalia play in a volleyball tournament on her birthday, on January 19th, and he noticed how she’s a very intelligent player. He was convinced she would have made a great point guard with her vision of the court. He told me that he wanted Bianka and Capri to take up basketball when they got older so he could spend as much time with them as he did with Gigi. He always told Bianka and Capri they’d grow up to play basketball and mix it up.”
On missing future moments with Kobe: “He won’t be able to walk our girls down the aisle”
“Now they won’t have their daddy and sister here to teach them, a loss I don’t understand,” she said. “I’m so glad that Kobe heard KoKo say Dada. He isn’t going to be here to drop Bianka or Capri off at kindergarten, be here to tell me to get a grip or show up to doctor visits for my own moral support. He won’t be able to walk our girls down the aisle, spin them around the dance floor singing PYT to me. I want my daughters to know the amazing person, husband and father he was. The kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes. He always liked working and doing projects to improve kids’ lives. He taught us all valuable lessons about life and sports through his NBA career, his book, his show Detail and his puny podcast series. We’re so thankful he left those lessons and stories behind for us.
On losing Kobe and Gianna together: “God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other”
“He was thoughtful and wrote the best love letters and cards, and Gigi had his wonderful ability to express feelings on to paper and make you feel her love through her words. She was thoughtful like him. They were so easy to love. Everyone naturally gravitated toward them. They were funny, happy, silly, and they loved life. They were so full of joy and adventure. God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi. I got Nata, Bebe and KoKo. We love and miss you, boo and Gigi. May you both rest in peace, have fun in heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always. Mommy.”
The celebration of Kobe and Gigi’s life comes nearly a month after the duo—along with passengers Christina Mauser, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester and pilot Ara Zobayan—tragically passed away in a helicopter crash. At the time of the incident, the group were headed to a basketball tournament at Kobe’s Mamba Sport Academy.
While fans, friends and family mourned the devastating accident, posting tributes and heartwarming memories, Vanessa took to Instagram to share a family photo with Kobe, Gigi and daughters Natalie, Bianka and Capri.
“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” she penned. “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
“I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them,” she continued. “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless—and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”
At the time, she also announced the MamboOnThree organization to help support the other families impacted by the tragedy. Later, she also revealed that Kobe’s Mamba Sports Foundation would be changed to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation to also honor her daughter.
“Because there is no #24 without #2,” she wrote on Instagram at the time. “Our mission remains the same—and stronger than ever—to provide opportunities to young people through sports. Thank you all for the outpouring of support and your kind donations to date as we carry forth Kobe and Gigi’s legacy..We hope to empower young athletes in a world they left us all to help shape.”