Among the over 20,000 people who attended the celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were Houston Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The pair went to great lengths to make sure they wouldn’t miss the ceremony, as they took a private jet directly from the Staples Center back to Houston in time for their 8 p.m. game on Monday night.
“I think it’s great [they attended],” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters. “Everybody has to do what they feel they need to do and I’m proud of our guys that they felt they needed to go.”
Both Harden and Westbrook have spoken out about Bryant following his death on January 26th.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Harden said during the NBA All-Star weekend. “Any time somebody asked me who my idol is, who I grew up watching and idolizing, it’s Kobe. I have so many memories.”
Per Mike D’Antoni, the jet carrying James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and P.J. Tucker is landing in Houston now. All three attended today’s Kobe Bryant memorial service in Los Angeles.
— SportsTalk 790 (@SportsTalk790) February 24, 2020
Westbrook opted not to speak publicly about Bryant, but he did share a heartfelt message on Instagram earlier this month.
“I am devastated about the passing of Kobe & Gigi, on every level,” said Westbrook. “I met Kobe when I was 16 at UCLA playing against him in a pick up game. He played like it was the NBA finals. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to emulate his Mamba mentality. At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself. He became a friend, a brother, a mentor, a teacher, he defended me, he believed in me, and he taught me how to weather the storm. I can go on and on, but I want to thank you for being my idol, & inspiration. I will pray for you and your family everyday just as I do my own.”
Kobe’s wife Vanessa bravely took the podium to talk about her late husband and daughter during the celebration
“Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul,” Vanessa said. “She was always thoughtful. She always kissed me goodnight and kissed me good morning. There were a few occasions where I was absolutely tired from being up with Bianka and Capri and I thought she had left for school without saying goodbye. I text and say ‘No kiss?’ and Gianna would reply with, ‘Mama, I kissed you but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.'”
“She knew how much her morning and evening kisses meant to me. She was so thoughtful to remember to kiss me every day,” she continued. “She was Daddy’s girl but I know she loved her mama. She would always tell me and show me how much she loved me. She was one of my very best friends. She loved faith, she loved putting a smile on everyone’s faces.”
Vanessa also talked about her husband.
“I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player,” she said. “He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was my — he was my everything.”