Vanessa Bryant spoke on her late husband Kobe Bryant's behalf as the iconic basketball player was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, in Springfield, Massachusetts, the mother of four, 39, gave a moving speech about her beloved husband's career and how he was looking forward to the Hall of Fame ceremony before his tragic death.
"Last February, I called Michael and asked if he would introduce Kobe tonight and he graciously accepted. Thank you for being here, Michael. Kobe admired you, this means so much to us," Vanessa told Michael Jordan, who presented Bryant into the Hall of Fame.
"I used to 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. 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 could see him know, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, 'Isn't this some s—?' He's still winning," Vanessa said.
"I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award. He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for Capri, he was so happy," the Bryant matriarch continued.
"He didn't really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed. My husband and I were sitting on our kitchen island, and he and I had a conversation about my mother[in-law] and father-in-law attending tonight's enshrinement. I invited my mother[in-law] and father-in-law to tonight's enshrinement to thank them one of the most amazing human beings into this world. Pam and Joe, thank you for raising Kobe to be exceptional. Thank you to all of Kobe's family. Sharia, you've gone above and beyond. I love you," Vanessa said about her sister-in-law.
"There will never be anyone like Kobe. Kobe was one of a kind. He was special, he was humble off the court but bigger than life. To all of our close friends and family that have been present for my girls and I, thank you. That list is long and it takes a village but know that your kindness and love does not go unappreciated. I know that Kobe is thankful that you're all coming through for his girls. We love you and are forever grateful for you," Vanessa said as close friends LaLa Anthony, Ciara, Russell Wilson and Sabrina Ionescu were seen in the audience.
"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. This is one of the hard parts of not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you. To all those who helped him get here, you know who you are and I thank you on his behalf," Vanessa said as the audience gave a resounding applause.
"I don't have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech. He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things including public speaking. However, I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against and told him he couldn't attain his goals. He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong," she said.
"All of the athletes that share a Hall of Fame award share the fact that they have to sacrifice a part of their lives to dedicate more time to their craft. It takes a lot of self-drive, dedication and discipline. No one can take away from their own success. Kobe's personal stats speak for themselves. Kobe was on a different level, he never took shortcuts when it came to basketball. He gave this game his all. Kobe played through injury and injury," Vanessa recalled. "To name a few: he had IVs administered during halftimes to play through food poisoning and the flu; he played with a broken nose; he had a broken finger and had it snapped back in place just enough to finish the game; he also taught himself how to use his left hand to play the rest of the season while his finger healed; he even swished two free throws with a torn Achille's and walked off the court on his own."
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Vanessa added, "I'll never forget the look he gave me as he walked off the court that game. 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 you walked into the tunnel, there was no wink and there was no kiss blown my way. I could see the concerned look on his face. That injury was big, but his comeback from that injury was bigger."
Giving a nod to Jordan, Vanessa also mentioned how much her late husband appreciated his fans because of his days looking up to his mentor. "People don't know this but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he remembered being a little kid sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play," she said before looking at Jordan's direction as the crowd cheered.
"He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena. Kobe didn't want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 sections that saved up to watch him play. The kids with the same excitement he once had. I remember I asked him why he couldn't sit a game out because he was hurting, he said, 'What about the fans who 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."
"Kobe had many accomplishments: five-time NBA champion, five-time New York Times bestselling author, 18-time All Star, a league MVP and two-time Finals MVP, two-time Olympic gold medal winner. He's also the first professional athlete to win an Oscar. The list goes on but his most cherished accomplishment was being the very best girl dad," Vanessa noted. "Usually people thank everyone who has helped them get here. But since I don't have Kobe's specific list, I want to thank my husband. He did the work, he broke those records and he inspired people to be great. I want to thank him for, somehow, finding ways to dedicate time to not only being an incredible athlete, a visionary entrepreneur and storyteller, but also being an amazing family man."
Then, Vanessa read a letter she wrote to Kobe, giving more thanks to him for everything during their two decades of marriage after they first met on the set of a music video in 1999, when Kobe was 20 and she was 17.
"Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you can possibly be. Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes. 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, thank you for our daughters Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Thank you for working so tirelessly to provide for us and for giving us the most amazing life together. Thank you for waking up at 4 a.m. to train, making it home to kiss me good morning and for dropping our girls off at school — only to go to practice, come home and pick up our girls from school whenever you could. Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school award show, show and tell or any games our daughters played in if your schedule permitted," she said.
"Thank you for putting your love for our family first. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to the people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than we were 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 and loving with a heart of gold. Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor, 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 my harsh comebacks, thank you for dishing them back. Thank you for being the Mickey to my Minnie, the Noah to my Allie [from The Notebook]. Thank you for loving me enough to last lifetimes, and every lifetime I choose you," Vanessa shared.
Bryant was selected as part of the Hall of Fame's class of 2020 alongside Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, as well as WNBA star Tamika Catchings, coaches Kim Mulkey, Rudy Tomjanovich, Barbara Stevens and Eddie Sutton.
The annual event was originally slated to take place in August 2020, but was delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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New inductees join those already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, including Scottie Pippen, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, and Michael Jordan, who presented Kobe's honor on Saturday.
Bryant was killed in a tragic January 2020 helicopter crash alongside his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others. The father-daughter pair is survived by Vanessa and their three other daughters: Natalia, 18, Bianka, 4, and Capri, 22 months.
"To our girls Natalia and Gianna, thank you 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. Bianka and Capri, I'm so happy you're here to see this tonight. Daddy was incredible, he loves you girls so very much," Vanessa said later in her speech.
"Congratulations baby, all of your hard work and sacrifices have paid off. You once told me, 'If you're going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.' I'm glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever," she joked before concluding her speech with a moving message: "You did it. You're in the Hall of Fame now. You're a true champ. You're not just a MVP, you're an all time great. I'm so proud of you, I love you forever and always Kobe Bean Bryant."
In addition to being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Bryant now has a standalone exhibit at the museum, which Vanessa helped design, the Los Angeles Times reported. The exhibit is called "Kobe: A Basketball Life," and is a rare inclusion for an inductee.
Items displayed include portions of the court at Bryant's high school in Pennsylvania, as well as replicas of the five championship rings he helped the Los Angeles Lakers win. Other items featured are the pair of sneakers he had on while scoring a career-high 81 points during a game in 2006.
His Oscar-winning animated short film Dear Basketball also plays in the space.