As she fought through the pain, Vanessa Bryant continued to show strength.
Nearly 16 months have passed since her husband, former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and 13-year-old-daughter, Gianna, both died in a helicopter crash. Within that timeframe, Vanessa Bryant gave two public speeches to commemorate her husband while processing her loss. She spoke for about 12 minutes and 30 seconds on Kobe’s behalf at his Hall of Fame induction on Saturday, nearly 15 months after doing the same at his memorial.
“I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,” she said. “He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”
Vanessa had shared that Kobe talked about his anticipated nomination as a first ballot Hall of Famer nearly a week before he was among the nine people that died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. But for a player who secured five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals and a fourth-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list partly because of his preparation, Kobe had not outlined what he planned to say when he expected to take center stage during his Hall of Fame induction.
“If my husband were here tonight, he would have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame — family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents,” Vanessa said. “This is one of the many hard parts about not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you to all of those that helped him get here. You know who you are and I thank you on his behalf.”
Even if Vanessa hesitated to thank individual people, she hardly held back on where to direct her thanks.
“I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” Vanessa said. “He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things, including public speaking. However, I do know that he would thank everyone who helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and people that worked against him and told him he couldn’t obtain his goals. He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”
Vanessa singled out a few people, however.
Vanessa expressed gratitude for Kobe’s parents, Joe and Pam, and sister, Sharia). That might be expected given the familial ties. But Kobe and Vanessa had varying degrees of tension with them over the years. Kobe’s parents initially did not approve of their son’s marriage. Eight years ago, Kobe sued his parents after they tried to auction off some of his high school memorabilia. But they all attended Kobe’s memorial last year, and Vanessa shared that Kobe spoke a week before he died about inviting his parents to his expected Hall of Fame induction.
“Pam and Joe, thank you for raising Kobe to be exceptional,” Vanessa said. “Thank you to all of Kobe’s family, Sharia. You’ve gone above and beyond. I love you.”
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Shortly after beginning her speech, Vanessa also thanked former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan for being Kobe’s presenter. Vanessa had asked Jordan to fulfill that role last year after he also spoke at Kobe’s memorial. Then, Jordan spoke about his relationship with Bryant as a competitor, mentor and friend.
“Thank you for being here, Michael,” Vanessa said. “Kobe admired you. This means so much to us.”
This time, Vanessa shared with Jordan how he influenced Kobe, who had often praised him for his skills, competitiveness and business acumen.
“One of the reasons why my husband played through injuries and pain was because he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad and watching his favorite player play,” Vanessa said as she turned to Jordan. “I remember asking him why he couldn’t just sit a game out because he was hurting. He said, ‘What about the fans that saved up to watch me play just once?’ He never forgot about his fans. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loved you all so much.”
So did Vanessa, who spent most of her speech praising her husband for how he fought through injuries and became a devoted family man over any of his on-court accomplishments.
Vanessa gushed about the countless ankle, knee and finger injuries that Kobe played through, including swishing a pair of free throws after tearing his left Achilles tendon in the 2012-13 season. Kobe then walked off the court on his own after that game. He then played six games in 2013-14 before having a season-ending left knee injury and 35 games in 2015-16 before having a season-ending right shoulder injury. Yet, Kobe still overcame them well enough to last 20 NBA seasons and score 60 points in his final game.
“I’ll never forget the look he gave me when he walked off the court that game,” Vanessa recalled about Kobe injuring his Achilles. “I knew it was bad. The crowd was cheering and I was reassuring Natalia and Gianna that daddy would be okay just like any other injury. But as he walked into the tunnel, there was no wink and no kiss blowing my way. I could see the concerned look on his face. That injury was big, but the comeback from that injury was bigger.”
Nonetheless, Vanessa argued that Kobe’s “most cherished accomplishment was being the very best girl dad” to their four daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. She also thanked Kobe “for being the best husband and father you could possibly be.”
Vanessa forgave Kobe for unspecified shortcomings. But earlier in their marriage, the two endured Kobe publicly admitting to adultery, facing rape charges that were eventually dropped and Vanessa filing for divorce before withdrawing it.
“Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes,” Vanessa said. “Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for our family.”
Vanessa then thanked Kobe for showing the same commitment he showed on the basketball court as he did with his family life. Some examples? Vanessa noted that Kobe often dropped off and picked up his daughters at school in between early-morning workouts and midday practices. She praised him for being punctual at birthday parties, dance recitals and award shows. Vanessa also expressed appreciation to Natalia and Gianna “for sacrificing so much time away from daddy so that he could focus on being the best at everything he set his mind to do.”
“Thank you for putting your love for our family first,” Vanessa said. “Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than the day before. Thank you for teaching me and all of us to put someone else’s joy before our own. Thank you for being so selfless with a heart full of gold.”
Vanessa spoke those words with gratitude with grace. But she predicted beforehand that it would not feel so easy. Not just because she still deals with the pain. She admittedly has not become used to lavishing her husband with such compliments.
But since Kobe’s passing, Vanessa has fought strongly on his behalf. She has renegotiated his business deals. She has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit and sued the LAPD for officers distributing photos of the crash site.
“I used to always avoid praising my husband in public because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality,” Vanessa said. “Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in Heaven because I’m about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages. I can see him now, arms folded with a huge grin, ‘Isn’t this some (expletive)?’ He’s still winning.”
So Vanessa still cracked a few playful digs.
“Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor,” Vanessa said. “Thank you for your wit. Thank you for never telling me no and always letting me have my way most of the time. Thank you for being patient and easygoing. Thank you for letting me burst your bubble every chance I got. Thank you for graciously taking all of my harsh comebacks. Thank you for dishing them back. Thank you for being the Mickey to my Minnie and the Noah to my Allie. Thank you for loving me enough to last a lifetime.”
Just like her husband, Vanessa then delivered an unforgettable finish.
“Daddy was incredible. He loves you girls so very much,” Vanessa said. “Congratulations baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off. You once told me that if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. 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. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”
Once Vanessa stopped speaking, the crowd reacted as they often did at Lakers games. They reacted with a round of applause. They then chanted Kobe’s name. After once marveling at how Kobe fought through pain while competing on the court, they praised Vanessa for fighting through pain while speaking on stage.
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