LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A tearful Michael Jordan on Monday night remembered his “little brother” Kobe Bryant at a star-filled memorial in Los Angeles for the basketball great and his daughter Gianna, who died with seven others in a helicopter crash last month.
“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died, and as I look in this arena, across the globe, a piece of you died,” the NBA legend said with tears streaming down his face.
“I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories and knowing that I had a little brother,” Jordan added.
“I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother.”
The public memorial – dubbed ‘A Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant’ – was held at Staples Center, the arena where Bryant wowed fans for 17 years, and known as “the house that Kobe built”.
The 2/24 date carries special significance as it coincides with Bryant’s jersey number – ‘24’ – and Gianna’s ‘2’ jersey number.
Another basketball legend, Shaquille O’Neal, also spoke at the ceremony, drawing cheers as he recalled the three NBA titles that he and Bryant won together.
“Kobe and I have pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time and I am proud that no other team has accomplished the three-peat the Lakers have done since Shaq-and-the-Kobe Lakers did it,” O’Neal said.
He also spoke of their well-known feuding, saying that even though “we fought, bantered or insulted each other with off-handed remarks,” there was mutual respect between the pair.
“Make no mistake,” O’Neal said. “Folks thought we were on bad terms, (but) when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other.”
Beyonce, backed by a choir, opened the ceremony with one of Bryant’s favourite songs XO, from her 2013 album, followed by Halo.
“I’m here because I love Kobe,” said the 70-time Grammy-nominated singer.
Bryant’s widow Vanessa paid a tearful tribute to her 41-year-old husband and middle daughter, saying she could not fathom life without them and describing Bryant as “my everything”.