How do you sum up a life taken too soon, distilling the lasting genius of Kobe Bryant, a talent so prolific that he has not one but TWO numbers hanging from the rafters at Staples Center, into a 10-minute speech? What words could possibly do the Black Mamba justice, capturing the essence of a once-in-a-generation athlete who was, all at once, a champion, global icon and the culmination of a lifetime devoted to his craft?
Unfortunately, there’s no blueprint for describing Kobe, no quick fix to be found on Google or Wikipedia. You just had to know him. In a way, all of us did, but recognizing Bryant’s brilliance from afar, witnessing the traits that made him a legend (his maniacal will to succeed, a determination so unbreakable and impervious to fear) from the comfort of our living-room couches or jammed elbow-to-elbow in a dimly-lit sports bar isn’t the same as sharing your family and life with him. Speaking at his Hall-of-Fame induction Saturday at Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut, Bryant’s widow Vanessa honored her husband’s memory as only she could, displaying the kind of poise and courage we’ve come to expect from her.
Joined on stage by Bryant’s mentor and childhood idol Michael Jordan, Vanessa spoke glowingly of Kobe’s competitive fire both on the court and off, the sacrifices he made for his family, the immense pride he took in being a “girl dad” to his four beautiful daughters and his lifelong pursuit of greatness.
“I used to always avoid praising my husband in public because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans across the world and someone had to bring him back to reality,” said Bryant of her late husband, an 18-time All-Star, five-time league champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history. “Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in Heaven, because I’m about to praise him for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages. I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some sh-t.’”
The tragic deaths of both Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gigi in a freak helicopter accident last January shook the sports world at its core, sending Los Angeles—where Bryant spent the entirety of his 20-year career—into a deep state of mourning. Thousands packed into Staples Center for Bryant’s memorial weeks later, an emotional event observed by Jordan, Kobe’s once-Lakers teammate (and at times, rival) Shaquille O’Neal and commissioner Adam Silver, among others attendees.
“You once told me if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever,” said Vanessa, holding back tears as she gave her closing remarks. “You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ. You’re not just an MVP. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you, forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”
Bryant’s speech capped a memorable evening with Kobe joining two of his contemporaries, Celtics and Timberwolves great Kevin Garnett and Spurs gentle giant Tim Duncan, in the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2020. Kobe’s enshrinement was supposed to take place a year ago, but had to be delayed due to COVID-19.