Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant filled the city’s Staples Center to the rafters one last time on Monday, as tens of thousands packed his team’s home arena for a memorial service to the icon and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
The father and daughter were killed last month in a helicopter crash alongside seven others.
Mourners, many decked out in Bryant jerseys, packed the arena for what the hoopster’s widow, Vanessa, has dubbed a “Celebration of Life.”
“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” Vanessa told the capacity-plus crowd, speaking her emotional first public words since the tragedy that tore her family in two.
“Babe, you take care of our Gigi,” she continued, speaking with steely resolve reminiscent of her husband as she choked back tears. “May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again.”
Vanessa spoke shortly after the ceremony opened with Beyoncé, radiant in a Lakers-gold outfit, belting out her 2013 track “XO,” which she said was among Bryant’s most beloved tunes.
“I’m here because I love Kobe and this was one of his favorite songs,” said Beyoncé, backed by a group of white-clad singers and a small string section.
She followed with a stirring performance of another track, imbued with particular poignancy on the bittersweet day: “Halo.”
The ceremony was emceed by ABC late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel.
“Everywhere you go, you see his face, you see his number,” said Kimmel. “It seems to me that all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them.”
Among the more than 20,000 attendees were Lakers greats past and present — including, respectively, Magic Johnson and Anthony Davis — as well as past Bryant teammates Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom, and longtime coach Phil Jackson.
Underscoring Bryant’s reach, the attendees also included NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and all-stars of the game, and beyond, including retired Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez.
But much of the crowd consisted of everyday fans who had watched Bryant for 20 seasons in the purple-and-gold, and who won a lottery for a ticket to say goodbye Monday.
Each was given a commemorative T-shirt bearing multiple illustrations of Bryant and Gianna, a “KB” pin and a limited-edition program packed with photos.
Following Beyoncé’s performance, a video tribute showing some of the most memorable plays from Bryant’s mega-watt career flashed across the arena’s screens.
Toward the video’s end, a clip of Bryant’s voice cut through, using his familiar moniker: “What can I say? Mamba out.”
Bryant, 41, Gianna and seven others were killed when their helicopter slammed into the foggy hills of Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26.
An official investigation into the cause is ongoing.
Shortly before the ceremony kicked off, it was reported that his widow has filed a wrongful death suit against the company that operated the flight.