Vanessa Bryant paid tribute to her “selfless and loving” late husband, Kobe Bryant, at the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on Saturday. The NBA legend – who was an 18-time All Star and five-time champion – was posthumously announced as part of the 2020 class, which also includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Tamika Catchings.
Kobe’s honor was presented by his mentor and “big brother,” Michael Jordan, while his wife gave a heartfelt acceptance speech on his behalf. “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,” 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 could see him know, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some s—?’ He’s still winning.” Vanessa said Kobe had been looking forward to the ceremony and she wished their 13-year-old daughter Gigi could have seen her father enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
The father-daughter duo, who famously shared a deep affection for the game of basketball, both died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. “He didn’t really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed,” Vanessa said. “I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award. He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this.”
Vanessa went on to describe her late husband as “one of a kind,” “intelligent, eloquent, and gifted at many things.” “I don’t have a speech prepared by my husband because he winged every single speech,” she said, but made sure to thank Kobe’s parents, friends, mentors, and teammates, as well as “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. “Kobe was on a different level, he never took shortcuts when it came to basketball. He gave this game his all.” Vanessa recalled how Jordan, Kobe’s favorite athlete growing up, inspired him to play through injuries and pain. “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. “He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena.” Vanessa said Kobe was also greatly motivated by his love for his fans. “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,” she said. “If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game, he loved you all so much.”
Vanessa also read a letter she wrote to Kobe, thanking him for “being the best husband and father” throughout two decades of marriage. “Thank you for being the Mickey to my Minnie, the Noah to my Allie [from ‘The Notebook’],” she said. “Thank you for loving me enough to last lifetimes, and every lifetime I choose you.” She concluded her speech with an emotional congratulations, reassuring Kobe: “You did it.”
“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,” she said. “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.”