World

LA honours Kobe, Gianna Bryant at memorial

By AAP Newswire

Kobe Bryant's wife has offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter at a packed memorial service for the two, who were among nine people killed last month in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles.

Speaking at times through tears, Vanessa Bryant praised her husband's devotion to their family as she addressed thousands of fans gathered at Staples Center to remember Bryant and 13-year-old Gianna.

"God knew they couldn't be on this Earth without each other," Vanessa Bryant said. "He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi."

The service took place at the downtown arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers for the final 17 seasons of his two-decade NBA career.

Thousands of Lakers fans, many wearing Bryant's jersey or team colours, attended the tearful gathering to honour Los Angeles' most popular athlete and a global basketball icon.

The ceremony began with Beyonce performing her songs XO and Halo with dozens of backup musicians. Alicia Keys performed Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata later in the program, and Christina Aguilera sang Ave Maria.

The two-hour program concluded with Dear Basketball, Bryant's Academy Award-winning short film.

After Jimmy Kimmel welcomed the crowd, Vanessa Bryant remembered the family's life with Gianna and her three siblings and then eulogised her husband. They had been together since 1999.

"He was the most amazing husband," she said. "Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words. I was fire. He was ice. Vice versa at times. ... He was my everything."

The mourners included Lakers greats such as Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Pau Gasol.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver joined Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Phil Jackson and dozens of current NBA players, including Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles natives James Harden, Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan. Celebrities such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez also attended.

Jordan, the Chicago Bulls great whose career was wrapping up as Bryant's was starting in the late 1990s, praised Bryant as "one of my dear friends. He was like a little brother. ... As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be".

O'Neal and Bryant joined the Lakers together in 1996, and they won three consecutive championships during eight tumultuous seasons in purple and gold.

"Kobe and I pushed each other to play some of the greatest basketball of all time," O'Neal said. "I'm proud nobody has accomplished what the threepeat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it."

Vanessa Bryant was followed on the podium by basketball stars Diana Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu. Kobe Bryant was a passionate advocate for women's basketball, and Gigi Bryant was a promising young player.

"If I represented the present of the women's game, Gigi represented the future, and Kobe knew it," said Ionescu, the Oregon star who was mentored by Bryant.

The concourse was a sea of people dressed in the team colors of purple and yellow and others in black. On the scoreboard, the Bryant family's life flashes by in pictures.

The service began just hours after Vanessa Bryant sued the owner of the helicopter that crashed in the fog last month. The wrongful-death lawsuit claimed that the pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent by flying in cloudy conditions.