NBA legend Michael Jordan was the latest to give a moving speech about Kobe Bryant during Monday’s public memorial, bringing some much-needed levity while paying tribute to his “little brother.”
“In the game of basketball and life as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank. He left it all on the floor,” he began. “Maybe it would surprise people that kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends. Kobe was my dear friend. He was like a little brother.”
Throughout his entire speech, Jordan had tears streaming down his face, visibly showing how Bryant’s sudden and tragic death had affected him. He then used that to give the audience a much-needed laugh, by referencing the infamous “Crying Jordan” internet meme, which was taken from his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2009. “Now he’s got me, I’m gonna have to look at another crying meme for the next…” he said, before tailing off as the crowd erupted in laughter. “I told my wife I wasn’t gonna do this because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years.”
Jordan’s celebrated career only briefly intersected with Bryant’s. Jordan retired after the 1998 season, before returning to play two more seasons between 2001-2003. Bryant entered the league as a teenager in 1996. Because of that, Jordan said that he took on more of a mentor/big brother-type role to Kobe. “He was a nuisance, but that nuisance turned into love over time,” he continued, adding that Bryant would call him in the middle of the night to talk about the finer points of basketball like the right footwork, post-up movies, and of course, Phil Jackson’s vaunted “Triangle offense” — Jackson coached both players for the majority of their careers.
“As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be,” he said. “To do that, you had to put up with the aggravation, the late night calls or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant.”
He continued: “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died… Rest in piece, little brother.”
The service on Monday is being held at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, where Bryant played the majority of his career. Bryant won five titles with the Lakers, including a run of three titles in a row between 2000-2002 alongside co-star Shaquille O’Neal.
Beyoncé Knowles kicked off the service by performing several songs, backed by a full band and backup singers. Jimmy Kimmel served as the emcee for the event, which featured additional performances by Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera, as well as speeches from Kobe’s widow Venessa Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, WNBA star Diana Taurasi, Lakers general manager and Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka, and Hall of Fame University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.