MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This morning, tens of thousands of Kobe Bryant's fans and friends and family gathered at the Staples Center in LA to celebrate his life and the life of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The basketball legend and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash with seven others on January 26.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco was inside the memorial today. We have her on the line now.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Hi. So I was following along as this memorial unfolded, and just - wow. What was it like inside the arena?
DEL BARCO: Yeah, it was pretty amazing inside the Staples Center, which is now affectionately known as the house that Kobe built, where Kobe Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the LA Lakers here. And so many people were wearing the gold-and-purple LA Lakers jersey with Kobe's old numbers, 24 and 8. And as you know, the celebration - it was star-studded. It kicked off with Beyonce singing his favorite songs and Alicia Keys playing the piano for him and Christina Aguilera singing "Ave Maria."
You know, everyone nearly held their breath and cried for his wife, Vanessa Bryant, who was with him for 20 years and is now left with their three daughters. You know, she gave a heart-wrenching talk about her romantic soul mate Kobe, who she nicknamed her papi chulo and boo-boo, and their daughter Gigi, who was on her way to being a great basketball player herself. And she says Gigi wanted to be the best player in the WNBA. Kobe was coaching her when - and her team.
And you know, Mary Louise, just before the memorial, the news broke that Vanessa is suing the helicopter company for the accident that killed them. She didn't talk about that during the ceremony, though.
KELLY: Before we move on from who was there, there were also some of the biggest basketball stars ever. I happened to catch a snatch where Michael Jordan was trying to speak, and I say trying because it looked like he just could not stop crying.
DEL BARCO: Oh, my gosh. He was very emotional. He had tears streaming down his face the entire time. His eyes were red. He joked that he'd be seeing pictures of himself crying for a long time. But you know, he talked about Kobe Bryant having been a little brother to him. Also, his former teammate Shaquille O'Neal talked about him being a little brother, too. And you know, there was a lot of footage of Kobe Bryant winning championships and celebrating afterwards and footage of Gigi playing basketball with her team. And you know that the proceeds from the ticket sales from the ceremony are going to the organization that they created, Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation.
KELLY: What has been the reaction today in LA?
DEL BARCO: Well, LA is, you know - everywhere you go, you'll see murals of Kobe Bryant and Gigi. People have just painted on the sides of the buildings. Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the ceremony - he made a reference to that, too.
And you know, there are people from all walks of life, all backgrounds in this diverse city, and people came from across the country to pay tribute to him. And it was sort of like, you know, at the basketball games - people were cheering for Kobe inside of the Staples Center. And outside, they were selling T-shirts and paintings and, you know - even though they'd been warned to stay a little bit away from the Staples Center, there - people were out here just trying to pay tribute to him.
KELLY: And what about for you - any particular moment you're going to have a hard time forgetting?
DEL BARCO: Well, you know, the NBA star Diana Taurasi and NCAA's Sabrina Ionescu talked about how Gigi represented the future of basketball. And there were references to Kobe as dad - a girls dad and as a renaissance man. At the end of the service, they played the short animated movie he played, "Dear Basketball," which won Kobe Bryant an Oscar in 2018. Here's a little bit of that right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEAR BASKETBALL")
KOBE BRYANT: (As narrator) Dear basketball, I fell in love with you - a love so deep I gave you my all, from my mind and body to my spirit and soul.
KELLY: A little bit of a taste of what unfolded at Staples Center today, where people were gathering to celebrate the life of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. That was NPR's Mandalit del Barco reporting.
Thank you, Mandalit.
DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.