Fans packing the sold-out Staples Center to honor the legacy of Kobe Bryant were welcomed to the arena Monday by no less than one of the biggest pop stars on Earth.
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Performing with a band and choir clad in all white, Beyonce invited the audience to sing along with her as she belted out her song, “XO,” which includes the lyrics, “In the darkest night hour, I’ll search through the crowd/Your face is all that I see; I’ll give you everything.”
“I’m here because I love Kobe,” Beyonce told the crowd, “and that was one of his favorite songs.”
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel took the stage before a sold-out crowd of about 20,000 people, which included basketball luminaries Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson, Stephen Curry and Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who Kimmel pointed out had worn a Bryant jersey to the Lakers-Celtics matchup the night before.
“In places where he would be booed on the court, Kobe is missed,” Kimmel said before introducing Vanessa Bryant.
Bryant’s widow first offered a remembrance of her daughter, Gianna, 13, who was one of the eight people on the helicopter with her 41-year-old father when it crashed in Calabasas last month. She recalled how Gianna and Bryant gravitated to each other and shared a “secret talent” of learning the lyrics to songs after hearing them only a few times.
“She was an incredible athlete. She was great at gymnastics, soccer, softball, dance and basketball,” the girl’s mother said. “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 boys’ basketball team some pointers — like the triangle offense.”
With many in the arena in tears, she moved on to Bryant, her “soulmate,” and regaled the crowd with stories of his romantic side. He always went big on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries, once gifting her the blue dress actor Rachel McAdams wore in “The Notebook.”
“I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player,” she said. “He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was mine. He was my everything. … Kobe loved me more than I could express or put into words.”