Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Kobe Bryant, accepted induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame on her husband’s behalf on Saturday, saying that his absence made writing a speech all the more challenging.
“If my husband were here tonight, he would have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame,” Bryant said. “Family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents.”
She continued: “This is one of the many hard parts about not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you. To all those who helped him get here, you know who you are, and I thank you on his behalf.”
Kobe Bryant, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 to 2016, was the biggest name in one of the most anticipated Hall of Fame classes in history, alongside other basketball luminaries, such as the players Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tamika Catchings and the coach Kim Mulkey. The induction ceremony, which took place at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., was supposed to have been held last year but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020, was announced as a posthumous inductee last spring.
Now, what has long been seen as a formality is now official: Bryant, an 18-time N.B.A. All Star, a five-time champion and one of the most influential basketball players ever, is a Hall of Famer.
Vanessa Bryant gave a poised speech in her husband’s place, with Michael Jordan, whom Vanessa referred to as Kobe’s “favorite player,” standing off to the side. Each inductee had a presenter, and Jordan served as Kobe’s. Vanessa said that she “wished my husband was here to accept this incredible award.”
“He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this,” she said, referring also to Gianna Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter, who also died in the helicopter crash last year outside Los Angeles that killed nine and sent shock waves through the basketball world.
Before she started her speech, Vanessa Bryant said to someone in the crowd: “I’m OK. Love you.”
Members of the crowd could be heard shouting back, “Love you, Vanessa!”
Bryant continued: “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. 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.”
She added: “I can see him now — arms folded with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some …’” followed by a profanity, spurring a ripple of laughter from the crowd.
Bryant was also praised in other speeches. Garnett, referring to Duncan and Bryant, both of whom were often obstacles in his quest for a championship, said that it was an honor to enter the Hall of Fame with them. Duncan returned the favor in his speech, saying: “You guys demanded the best out of me, and it brought the best of me. Thank you.” Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached Bryant in 2004-5 with the Lakers and was also inducted on Saturday, said that Bryant “thrilled us for 20 years right down until the last game.”
Vanessa Bryant, in her speech, nodded to her husband’s infamous competitive streak.
“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,” she said. “He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”
She also spoke about Jordan’s influence on her husband, and the work ethic he had inspired.
“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” Vanessa said, looking at Jordan. “He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena.
“Kobe didn’t want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 sections that saved up to watch him play — the kids with the same excitement he once had.”
Vanessa Bryant ended her speech by paying homage to her husband’s retirement letter, titled “Dear Basketball,” which he published in 2015. It was then turned into a short film and won an Academy Award in 2018 for best animated short film.
“Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be,” Bryant said. “Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us.”
She closed with her voice cracking slightly.
“You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now,” Bryant said. “You’re a true champ. You’re not just an M.V.P. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”