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Stars And Athletes Pay Tribute At Moving Kobe Bryant Public Memorial

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Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa Bryant speaks at the public memori service at Staples Center in downtown L.A. on Feb. 24, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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The public memorial of Kobe Bryant has concluded. The service brought a packed house and poignant remarks from A-list celebrities across sports and media, including fellow Lakers Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal.

Beyoncé was the first to sing following a few words of welcome and remembrance.

"I want you to sing it so loud that he’ll hear your love," Beyoncé said.

Alicia Keys later played a favorite piece of Kobe and his widow, Vanessa Bryant -- Moonlight Sonata -- and Jimmy Kimmel choked up talking about the emotion of seeing Kobe's face everywhere.

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Michael Jordan fought through tears to talk about his longtime friend, saying he wanted to be "the best big brother I could be." He also joked that he hadn't wanted to speak at the memorial because of the crying memes that would ensue.

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Michael Jordan speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on Feb. 24, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

When Vanessa Bryant spoke, it was to share the heartbreaking words of a mother who would never see her daughter get married, and a wife who had lost her soul mate.

Later, Christina Aguilera sang "Ave Maria." After the service, a hushed crowd shuffled out under the gentle crooning of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable."

The performers played not just for Bryant, but for his daughter Gianna and their seven friends who died last month when a helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas.

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Separately today, Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the operator of the helicopter, specifically claiming the pilot was negligent in failing to abort the flight in unsafe conditions — there was heavy fog and low visibility the morning of the crash.

Click "Read More" below for our full coverage.

Scenes from the city | Kobe's lasting impact | Road closures | How we're covering this

SCENES FROM THE CITY

Not everyone could be at the arena to pay their respects in person. Around Los Angeles, there were signs of a city in mourning.

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Eric Felland stopped his van along Melrose Avenue meaning to admire the graffiti and noticed a collection of Kobe murals.

“I didn’t know how much he meant to this city 'til he died,” Felland said.

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Kobe Bryant mural along Melrose Avenue. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Justin Orellana, who was crossing the street for class at Fairfax High School, said he didn’t watch much basketball — but his mom always did, and they’d watch Kobe together.

Fan Geno Cacho, a lifelong Angeleno, said he watched Kobe with his dad growing up.

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"It was bigger than basketball," Cacho said. "The thing I'm going to miss about him is his inspiration, and his ability, and his work ethic."

Santa Ana resident Natalie Flores was out at a public showing of the memorial.

"You just want to break out into tears, but at the same time, you want to be strong for everyone else," Flores said.

Vytas Katalynas, a youth basketball coach from Chicago, came out to L.A. with hopes of getting tickets to the Kobe Bryant memorial. He wasn't able to, but said that he was glad to be in the city for the occasion.

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Art Gozukuchikyan painted a Kobe Bryant mural outside of Vem Exotic Rentals on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Art Gozukuchikyan, the muralist who painted a piece outside of Vem Exotic Rentals on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, said that you go through all sorts of emotions painting a person who passed.

“I personally don’t like painting a lot of dead people, because you feel that," he said, adding that it’s a strange feeling to paint someone's face for hours. You develop a different connection to them and feel in touch with the person, he said.

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Víctor Preciado, manager at Vem Exotic Rentals, with a Laker colors McLaren 600LT in front of a Kobe Bryant mural at the store. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Víctor Preciado, the manager at Vem, said that they where already planning on a mural outside of their shop — they just didn’t know what of. When Kobe died it was a no brainer, because "he was important," Preciado said.


KOBE'S LASTING IMPACT

Bryant's impact goes beyond basketball and beyond Los Angeles. Stories of his determination inspired Chinese immigrants to attend college here and even become professional basketball players. Mexican Americans embraced him as an "honorary Mexican," and not just because his wife was Mexican American. Kobe learned to speak Spanish as a way to acknowledge the L.A. Latinos who "embraced [him] the hardest." Just the sheer joy of watching him play left a lasting impact on many fans.

But many who interacted with Kobe also spoke of his big-hearted charity.

My Friend’s Place is an L.A. nonprofit helping homeless youth. Kobe and Vanessa Bryant donated to the group, even giving their old clothes.

"It was not only in that, kind of that, shiny, pubic press, kind of way. They were personally involved,” said executive director Heather Carmichael.

She said the Bryants tried to understand youth homelessness and how they could best help. When Bryant first started working with My Friend’s Place, he sat down with a group of homeless youth to listen to their stories.

“You could tell that he was really taking in who these young people are, and what their circumstances were, but more importantly, their potential,” Carmichael said.

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A Lakers-colored parking curb paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, alongside fresh flowers underneath a Kobe mural on Melrose. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Bryant also worked with several local after school-programs, including East L.A. Rising, once a Boys and Girls Club. Executive director Anna Araujo said Bryant tried to inspire students to work hard and make something of themselves.

“That was Kobe, he was deep, you know?" she said. "He really wanted to invest to make sure that it was, you know, it wasn’t a handout. He wanted you to succeed and be able to stand on your own.”

As a student, Radine Lopez participated in programs at East L.A. Rising. She said she went to countless Lakers games back then because Bryant donated tickets.

"I felt like I was part of the team, you know? Like we were family," Lopez said. "I just felt he cared about us, he never forgot about us."

Now Lopez is making sure Bryant isn't forgotten. She painted a mural of him on the wall of the East L.A. Rising building, with a Bryant quote about rising above challenges: “Everything negative, pressure, challenges is all an opportunity for me to rise.” It’s an inspiration, she said, for a city in mourning.

"I think he would want us to rise from it, like make a difference, do more than what he did, you know, give back,” Lopez said.


TRAFFIC AND ROAD CLOSURES

You can expect very heavy traffic in downtown L.A. today. Only ticketed attendees will be allowed anywhere near the event and will be required to show their tickets to a Los Angeles police officer or staff member to gain access.

The following streets are closed:

  • Chick Hearn Court from L.A. Live Way to Figueroa Street
  • Georgia Street from Olympic Boulevard to Chick Hearn Court


HOW WE'RE COVERING THIS

KPCC producer Pablo Cabrera will be inside Staples Center. Producer Emily Henderson provided background on Kobe's impact on L.A. through local charity work and is reporting from L.A. Live. Reporter Robert Garrova is reporting from outside Staples Center. Take Two producer Austin Cross is at Santa Ana City Hall, where a prayer service and memorial was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. followed by the televised service. Reporter Kyle Stokes and visual journalist Chava Sanchez are visiting murals and other pop-up memorial sites. And LAist associate editor Brian Frank is compiling this post to keep you updated, with help from the LAist digital team.

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