Kobe Bryant memorial underscores female empowerment, being a GirlDad, promoting women’s sports

LOS ANGELES – Beyonce sang “Halo.”

Alicia Keys played Beethoven on a purple piano.

More than 20,000 people came to say their final goodbyes.

And Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, made her first public appearance since the death of her husband, telling the world how much she missed him and their daughter.

This was “A Celebration of Life,” a public memorial for the Lakers legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant — both among nine dead in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.

But it was also a testament to other powerful themes that shaped the latter part of his life – being a girl dad, empowering women and promoting women’s sports.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Vanessa Bryant said. “He had to bring them home to heaven together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi … May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always.”

Bryant’s relationship with his deceased daughter – and his fatherhood with three other children, all girls – loomed large during the early part of the 2 1/2-hour ceremony, especially his support of Gianna’s love of basketball. After Vanessa Bryant’s tearful farewell, the next three speakers at the Staples Center were icons of women’s basketball: Diana Taurasi of the WNBA, Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon and Geno Auriemma, the head coach of Connecticut. 

The speakers and performers apparently were chosen by Vanessa Bryant – a lineup of strong women who reached for their dreams, including those Kobe was mentoring and wanted Gigi to consider role models. Gigi Bryant played youth basketball and aspired to play at Connecticut under Auriemma and then in the WNBA. Kobe and Gigi died on the way to one of her tournaments.

Ionescu, the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, also wrote an essay in "The Players’ Tribune" published Monday, the same day as her appearance on center stage at the memorial. She considered him a mentor.

Diana Taurasi looks skyward while delivering her speech during the memorial to celebrate the life of Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant at Staples Center. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

“Kobe’s death also left me with some questions about my own path,” she wrote. “What was I supposed to do now without his presence?? Without his guidance?? Who was I going to turn to for advice?? And then on top of those thoughts, I had these almost even “angrier” questions, you know?? Like: How could the world have brought me together with someone like Kobe, someone who understood me so well — maybe the first person in my life who truly got me on this deeper basketball level — only to then rip him out of my life after less than a year?! And why?! It just felt cruel. It still feels that way.”

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka also shared a story about how Kobe’s final act on this Earth before the crash was another effort to boost the future of a friend’s daughter. He said Kobe sent him a text message from the helicopter at about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 26, just minutes before the helicopter smashed into a hill in Calabasas.

Bryant asked Pelinka, his longtime friend, if he knew a certain baseball agent in Southern California. He was hoping to help the friend “secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters.” The daughter was Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John Altobelli, the college baseball coach who also died in the crash, along with his daughter Alyssa, 13, and wife Keri. Alyssa Altobelli played on the same youth basketball team as Gianna Bryant.

“Kobe’s last human act was heroic,” Pelinka said. “He wanted to use his platform to bless and shake a young girl’s future.”

He was doing the same with his daughter. Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury said the last time she saw Gianna Bryant was in Phoenix for a tournament. Bryant brought the team over to watch the Mercury practice.

“I always remember the look on Gigi’s face,” Taurasi said. “It was a look of excitement. A look at belonging. A look of fierce determination.”

Like her father.

Follow Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter.

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