The Class of 2020 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, and this group featured a number of all-time legends including Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Tamika Catchings. But even with all of that star power, the biggest name was still the late Kobe Bryant.
Last January, the former Los Angeles Lakers star died along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a tragic helicopter accident. His passing reverberated across the world, and this weekend's celebrations were a reminder of how much he meant to not only the game of basketball but the entire sports community.
During the induction ceremony, Bryant was presented by Michael Jordan, and his wife, Vanessa, delivered a speech in his place.
Vanessa joked about finally praising Kobe in public:
"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. I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, 'isn't this some s---.'"
Vanessa also thanked Kobe's doubters for motivating him:
"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. He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong."
Vanessa talked about why Kobe played through injury:
"People don't know this, but my husband played through injuries and pain because he remembered being a little kid, sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play. He could recall the car ride, the combos 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.
I remember asking him why he couldn't just 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. If he could help it, he would play every minute of every game. He loved you all so much."
Vanessa's closed with a message to Kobe:
Thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be. Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes. Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for our family. Thank you for our daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Thank you for working so tirelessly to provide for us and for giving us the most amazing life together. Thank you for waking up at 4 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning and for dropping our girls off at school. Only to go to practice, come home and pick up our girls from school whenever you could. Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school awards show, show and tell, or any games our daughters played in if your schedule permitted. Thank you for putting your love for our family first.
Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives and joy to the people around the world. Thank you for inspiring us to be better than we were the day before. Thank you for teaching me and all of us to put someone else's joy before our own. Thank you for being so selfless and loving with a heart of gold. Thank you for never taking yourself too seriously. Thank you for your sense of humor. Thank you for your wit. Thank you for never telling me no, and always letting me have my way... most of the time. Thank you for being patient and easy going. Thank you for letting me burst your bubble every chance I got. Thank you for graciously taking all my harsh comebacks. Thank you for dishing them back. Thank you for being the Mickey to my Minnie, the Noah to my Allie. Thank you for loving me enough to last lifetimes. In every lifetime, I choose you.
To our girls, Natalia and Gianna, thank you for sacrificing so much time away from daddy so he could focus on being the best at everything he set his mind to do. Bianka and Capri, I'm so happy you're here to see this tonight. Daddy was incredible. He loves you girls so very much.
Congratulations, baby. 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. You did it. 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."