Vanessa Bryant Recalls How Late Husband Kobe Was ‘Looking Forward’ to Hall of Fame, Thanks Michael Jordan
“He didn’t really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed,” Vanessa Bryant recalled
“He didn’t really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed,” Vanessa Bryant recalled
The ceremony took place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, a year after it was originally postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vanessa Bryant made a moving acceptance speech on her late husband’s behalf as Jordan stood on the stage with her.
“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 Jordan.
Later in her speech, she referenced Jordan when she mentioned how her late husband learned to appreciate his fans after watching the Chicago Bulls icon when he was younger. “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,” Vanessa 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,” the Bryant matriarch said.
Also in her speech, Vanessa recalled having a conversation about the Hall of Fame ceremony with her Lakers great. “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,” she said of their youngest daughter.
“He didn’t really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed,” Vanessa added.
“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,” she said about her sister-in-law.
Leading up to the ceremony, Jordan revealed how Bryant’s widow had personally chosen him to do the honors.
“I told her, ‘Look, I know this is a tough time. I’m always here if you need me,’ ” Jordan recalled in a recent interview with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN. “She answered back, ‘I would love it if you stood up for Kobe at the Hall of Fame.’ “
“It’s going to be a great honor, to be honest. It’s like standing up for a family member,” he continued. “[Bryant] paid me the highest respect by trying to emulate certain things I did. And I can only repay that by showing my support and admiration for a guy who I felt was one of the greatest to ever play the game.”
Jordan also revealed his final text exchange with Bryant, who died alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in January 2020.
“This tequila is awesome,” Bryant texted Jordan in early December 2019, referring to the Jordan-owned brand of tequila, Cincoro. After Jordan thanked Bryant, the two basketball legends then texted about family.
“Yes, sir. Family good?” Bryant asked.
“All good. Yours?” Jordan responded.
“All good,” Bryant said back.
According to ESPN, Jordan then changed the subject to Bryant’s coaching Gianna and her basketball team.
“Happy holidays,” Jordan wrote to Bryant before adding a laughing emoji, “and hope to catch up soon. Coach Kobe??!”
“Ah, back at you, man,” Bryant replied. “Hey, coach, I’m sitting on the bench right now, and we’re blowing this team out. 45-8.”
As another testament to their friendship, Jordan — who owns the Charlotte Hornets — spoke about Bryant during a memorial at Staples Center last year.
“It may be a surprise to people that Kobe and I were very close friends,” he said during the event. “He was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
“I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant, that he was just trying to be a better person,” he continued, in part. “We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything, he was just trying to be a better person.”
What was expected to be an amazing induction night when Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and others were named to the 2020 class became one that was filled with triumph, celebration and also sadness Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Bryant’s untimely death on Jan. 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter Gianna and seven others changed the focus of the ceremony from celebration to tribute. Bryant was the final of the nine inductees and Vanessa, dressed in a purple pantsuit, gracefully addressed the audience and the world for 12 minutes, discussing her husband’s accomplishments and thanking him for being a father to their four daughters and a husband “who learned from his mistakes.”
It was obvious after Bryant’s death that this ceremony would be like no other in Naismith history. No first-ballot inductee had ever died before their induction and the Hall spent months carefully planning a program that honored Bryant and allowed Vanessa to speak on his behalf.
It has been the Hall’s policy to have family members of a posthumous inductee speak on pre-recorded video. But they made a special and necessary exception for Vanessa, who was remarkably steady during her address.
“I used to always 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,” she opened. “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 can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some (expletive).”
The crowd, filled with masked Hall of Famers and a limited ticketed audience, roared in laughter and applause. It was a melancholy moment but Vanessa quickly encapsulated her husband’s passion and brash personality.
“I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,” she continued. “He and GiGi deserve to be here to witness this. GiGi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined into the basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was really looking forward to being here.”
When he considered his possible induction, Bryant planned to ask for a sixth ticket for his newborn daughter Capri. All three of his daughters were in attendance with the two youngest posing for photos with his award following the ceremony.
“There will never be anyone like Kobe,” she said. “He was one of a kind. He was special. He was humble, off the court but bigger than life. I don’t have a speech prepared for my husband because he winged every single speech. He was intelligent, eloquent and gifted at many things, including public speaking. However I do know he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him he couldn’t attain his goals.
“He would thank them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”
After that statement, all-time great Michael Jordan, who presented Bryant and was standing behind Vanessa, began smiling.
“Usually people thank everyone that has helped them get here,” she continued. “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.
“Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school workshop, show-and-tell or any games our daughters played in. Thank you for loving me to last lifetimes and every lifetime, I choose you.”
The tragedy of Bryant’s death reverberated throughout the world. Bryant became a staunch supporter of women’s basketball after his career and began counseling many younger NBA players, including the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum.
He squeezed every drop of passion and fortitude out of his 20-year career and left the game at peace. In his final trip to Boston, Celtics president Danny Ainge and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck presented Bryant with a piece of the Celtics’ parquet floor.
He was lauded following his playing days as one of the game’s fiercest competitors and relentless workers. And the fact that had won an Academy Award, opened a basketball academy and began writing children’s books hinted that he was headed for a landmark post-career life.
“Congratulations Baby,” Vanessa concluded. “All of your hard work and sacrifice has 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. You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re not just an MVP, you’re an all-time great.”
Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Kobe Bryant, accepted her husband’s admission into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday night on his behalf, saying that he’s still winning even after he’s gone.
“I used to always 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,” Vanessa Bryant said at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. “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 can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some s—?’
“He’s still winning.”
The 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class is one of the most star-studded of all time, led by Bryant and fellow NBA legends Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan — a trio that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said earlier Saturday is better than any in the history of the institution.
“There has not been a better Big Three to go in at the same time,” James said.
Still, the focus of the night, and the weekend, was understandably on the man who wasn’t there, in the wake of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others on Jan. 26, 2020.
Vanessa Bryant’s speech, given with Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, standing next to her as his presenter into the Hall of Fame, focused on her relationship with her husband, as well as his with his children.
“I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said. “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 him and told him that he couldn’t attain his goals.
“He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”
Vanessa Bryant also spoke about his legendary determination and will to play through injuries, including when he made two free throws and walked off the court under his own power after tearing his left Achilles tendon.
She said that ability came from watching Jordan while growing up, and following Jordan’s example of trying to always put on a show for the one person who might get to see him play only that night, in only that game.
“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” she said, sneaking a look at Jordan while the crowd laughed. “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 section that saved up to watch him play, the kids with the same excitement he once had.
“I remember asking him why he just 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.”
Ultimately, though, she said Bryant’s favorite fans were his daughters, whom he doted on constantly and whose events he tried his best to attend.
“Thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be. Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes,” Vanessa Bryant said. “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, for 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 awards show, show-and-tell or any games our daughters played in if your schedule permitted. Thank you for putting your love for our family first. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to 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.”
She finished by telling Bryant that his bet on himself, as he’d once told her is always the best one to make, had paid off.
“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has paid off,” she said. “You once told me, if you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself. I’m glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ.
“You’re not just an MVP. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe. Bean. Bryant.”
— Basketball HOF (@Hoophall) May 16, 2021
While Vanessa Bryant’s speech was a fitting conclusion to the star-studded event, it was far from the only notable moment from a night that took far longer to arrive than initially planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was Garnett who led off the festivities Saturday evening — an honor he said he requested.
“I told them I wanted to go first,” the 15-time All-Star, 12-time All-Defensive Team and nine-time All-NBA selection said with a smile, “because I know we’ve got the OGs in here. I know y’all have got a bedtime in a minute. I wanted Bill Russell to hear my speech before y’all fell asleep.”
He then went on to thank the four players who jumped from high school to the pros in the 1970s — 20 years before Garnett became the first to do it in decades in 1995, when Minnesota drafted him fifth overall.
“It’s a big deal for me to pay homage to the ones that came before me,” Garnett said.
He also thanked Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Jordan, as well as Isiah Thomas, whom Garnett selected as his presenter for Saturday’s ceremony. It was Thomas, a fellow Chicago high school player who was running the Toronto Raptors at the time, who Garnett said gave him advice that helped convince him to officially make the jump from preps to pros in 1995.
“I think today,” Garnett said with a smile, “they would call that tampering.”
After thanking his mother, Shirley, whom he said was the one to blame for the passion and intensity with which he played throughout his 21-year career. He thanked his daughters and those who helped raise him in South Carolina and Chicago. Garnett went through and listed thank-you’s to many of those he crossed paths with during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.
Some of them, including former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Celtics teammate Paul Pierce and Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Sam Cassell, were in attendance.
And then there were the notable people Garnett did not mention: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, with whom Garnett has feuded for years; Ray Allen, part of the Big Three in Boston that led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title; and Deron Williams, the player Garnett was traded to Brooklyn to play alongside in 2013.
“I played the game hard,” Garnett said, summing up his approach to the sport. “I played the game with a passion.”
He finished his speech by acknowledging Duncan, whom he battled for the honor of being the best power forward in the sport for a decade, and Bryant.
“It was nothing but epic when we battled,” Garnett said to Duncan. “I look forward to all the battles. Seriously. And I thank you for taking me to another level, you and Rasheed [Wallace].”
Garnett was followed by longtime college coaches Barbara Stevens and Eddie Sutton, before WNBA legend Tamika Catchings took the stage.
“Congratulations, baby. All of your hard work and sacrifice has 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. You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now. You’re a true champ.” Vanessa Bryant accepting the induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on her late husband’s behalf on Saturday.
Catchings had one of the best careers in women’s basketball history — 12 All-WNBA selections, five Defensive Player of the Year Awards, a WNBA MVP, a WNBA championship and four Olympic gold medals.
“I am proof that [with] hard work, undying faith and a solid support system, dreams do come true,” said Catchings, who wears hearing aids.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to make dreams come true. To all of the people who have been part of my village, thank you. We all have dreams and goals and whether you’re young or old, born with a disability, or have been told of the things you can’t accomplish, tonight I share the same words that my parents shared with me: What’s a choice? If anyone can do it, you can. Shoot for the stars, work hard, and catch your dream.”
Catchings also has the distinction of having spent part of her childhood in Italy with Kobe Bryant, when their fathers — Harvey Catchings and Joe Bryant, former teammates with the Philadelphia 76ers — were playing for rival teams in Italy.
“To Kobe and the Bryants,” she said, “this truly has been a basketball storybook ending.”
Catchings’ speech was followed by acceptances for the late Patrick Baumann, the longtime FIBA secretary general who died from a heart attack in 2018; two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich; and college coach Kim Mulkey, before Duncan took the stage ahead of Vanessa Bryant and Jordan.
Accompanied by San Antonio Spurs Hall of Famer David Robinson, and with his only NBA head coach, Gregg Popovich, who skipped the Spurs’ Saturday afternoon game against the Phoenix Suns, Duncan — whose famously stoic demeanor followed him throughout his great career — admitted he’d never been more nervous than he was Saturday.
“I will try to get through this,” the 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team and 15-time All-NBA selection said with a smile. “This is the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through Finals, through Game 7s, and this officially is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been pacing in my room all day, so let’s see what we get.”
He began by thanking Robinson, with whom he won two of his five championships with the Spurs, for showing him how to be a pro. Like Garnett, Duncan also thanked his fellow NBA inductees for making him better.
“People always ask, ‘What did he tell you? What did he show you?'” Duncan said of Robinson, before adding, with a laugh: “I don’t remember one thing we sat down and talked about specifically.
“But what he did was he was a consummate pro, he was an incredible father, he was an incredible person, and he showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but by being that.”
Duncan also thanked his parents, William and Ione, and joked they had a combined “zero basketball knowledge” between them.
“But they taught me about the game more than anyone else,” Duncan said. “You heard the mantra that my mom instilled in me — good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is your best — they told me, and made me, have pride in everything I did.”
He then discussed his remarkable journey, from not picking up a basketball until he was 14 years old to earning a scholarship to Wake Forest by playing a pickup game at a court near the hotel where his eventual college coach, Dave Odom, stayed.
“I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship,” Duncan said. “He saw something in me, and he took a chance on this kid from the [U.S. Virgin] Islands. Thank you, Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”
Duncan went through his career, highlighting many of his teammates, before eventually settling on two fixtures of so much of his time in San Antonio, teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — both of whom were in attendance.
“To look to your left and look to your right and have the same guys there year in and year out is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a blessing beyond what I can put into words. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me to not be up here. It was an honor sharing the court with you guys. Thank you for your friendship, thank you for your brotherhood, thank you for all of the experiences that we shared on that court.”
Then, after choking up while talking about his wife and children, Duncan finally turned his attention to Popovich, whom Duncan joked would be angry he talked about him at all.
“I don’t want to talk about him. He’s going to get mad at me if I talk about him,” Duncan said.
“The standard you set … you showed up after I got drafted, you came to my island, you sat with my friends, my family, you talked with my dad. I thought that was normal. It’s not. You’re an exceptional person.
“Thank you for teaching me about basketball but, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s going on in the world, your family … just, for everything. Thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”
Kobe Bryant, Second Only To Michael Jordan
Kobe Bean Bryant (/ˈkoʊbiː/ KOH-bee; August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020) was an American professional basketball player. A shooting guard, he spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Bryant won five NBA championships, was an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), and a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Bryant also led the NBA in scoring twice, and ranks fourth in league all-time regular season and postseason scoring. He was posthumously voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020.
Born in Philadelphia and partly raised in Italy, Bryant was recognized as the top American high-school basketball player while at Lower Merion. The son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, he declared for the 1996 NBA draft and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick; he was then traded to the Lakers. As a rookie, Bryant earned a reputation as a high-flyer by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, and was named an All-Star by his second season. Despite a feud with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, the pair led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, Bryant was charged with sexual assault; criminal charges were dropped after the accuser refused to testify, and a civil suit was settled out of court, with Bryant issuing a public apology and admitting to a sexual encounter he maintained was consensual.
After the Lakers lost the 2004 NBA Finals, O’Neal was traded and Bryant became the cornerstone of the Lakers. He led the NBA in scoring in the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. In 2006, he scored a career-high 81 points; the second most points scored in a single game in league history, behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. Bryant led the team to consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, both times being named NBA Finals MVP. He continued to be among the top players in the league through the 2012–13 season, when he suffered a torn achilles tendon at age 34. Season-ending knee and shoulder injuries followed in the next two seasons. Citing physical decline, Bryant retired after the 2015–16 NBA season.
The all-time leading scorer in Lakers history, Bryant was the first guard in NBA history to play 20 seasons. His 18 All-Star designations are the second most all time, while it is the record for most consecutive appearances as a starter. Bryant’s four NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards are tied with Bob Pettit for the most in NBA history. He gave himself the nickname “Black Mamba” in the mid-2000s, and the epithet became widely adopted by the general public. At the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won two gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team. In 2018, he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for the film Dear Basketball (2017).
Bryant died, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. A number of tributes and memorials were subsequently issued, including renaming the All-Star MVP Award in his honor.