Vanessa Bryant honored her late husband, Kobe Bryant, on Saturday as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2020. Michael Jordan presented the late NBA star for his posthumous enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, an honor that was delayed from last year due to the pandemic.
Vanessa, 39, delivered an emotional and touching speech as a tribute to her late husband and daughter, Gianna, 13, who both passed away last January in a tragic helicopter crash. She was immediately met with a round of applause and cheers as she stepped behind the podium.
“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 said. “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 sh-t?’”
She continued, adding, “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 into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”
Vanessa explained that if her husband was present, he’d have a long list of people to thank that had inspired him throughout the years, including his family, friends, mentors, teammates, opponents and the Lakers.
“I don't have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said of her late husband. “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 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 recalled how Bryant would play through his games injured, giving the game his all. When she asked him why he played through injuries, she said he explained how he remembered being a kid sitting in the nosebleeds just to watch his favorite player play. At that moment, she looked back at Jordan, who was standing behind her.
“I remember asking him why he couldn't just sit a game out because he was hurting. He said, ‘What about the fans that saved up to watch me play just once?’” she said. “He never forgot about his fans. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loves you all so much.”
Bryant has been decorated with countless accolades throughout the years including a five-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and the first professional athlete to win an Oscar. Despite those accomplishments, there was one that would always beat out the rest: being a father.
"His most cherished accomplishment was being the very best girl dad,” Vanessa, said. “Usually people thank everyone that 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 for also being an amazing family man.”
She ended her speech with a touching letter written to her husband from herself, thanking him for all of the things he has done throughout the years for himself and their family in order to be the "best husband and father" he could be.
"Thank you for our family," she said. "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.”
She continued, adding, “Thank you for waking up at 4:00 am 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 award show, show and tell, or any games our daughter's played in if your schedule permitted.”
“Thank you for putting your love for our family first,” she added. “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...Thank you for being the Mickey to my Minnie and the Noah to my Allie. Thank you for loving me enough to last lifetimes. In every lifetime, I choose you.”
Vanessa thanked her daughters, Natalia and Gianna, 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,” she concluded her heartfelt tribute to Bryant. “Daddy was incredible. He loves you girls so very much. Congratulations, baby, all of your hard work and sacrifices 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. 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."
On Friday as part of the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony ahead of the induction ceremony on Saturday, Vanessa and her daughter, Natalia, 18, celebrated Bryant at the Tip-Off Celebration Friday to receive his jacket and ring. To honor her father and his lasting legacy on the sport, the 18-year-old wore his emblazoned jacket and ring herself while the other inductees wore their own jackets and rings.
Vanessa shared a series of Instagram posts on Friday taken from inside the Basketball Hall of Fame, exploring her husband’s exhibit that she helped design with her three daughters, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri to honor and celebrate his memory, a year and a half after their loss.