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 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 be 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.
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.”
Bryant ended her speech by paying homage to Kobe’s retirement letter, “Dear Basketball,” which was 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 slightly cracking.
“You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now,” Bryant said. “You’re a true champ.”