Why Vanessa Bryant almost didn’t speak at Kobe’s memorial

As the world continues to process the unexpected deaths of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, the basketball legend’s friends and family united with fans at a public memorial for those lost in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash. This celebration of life — held at the Staples Center in LA, Kobe’s home for nearly two decades — honored the father-daughter duo’s passion and friendship. From former teammate Shaquille O’Neal’s goofy anecdote to “big brother” Michael Jordan’s heartfelt speech, there wasn’t one dry eye in the 20,000-seat arena.

Kobe’s widow Vanessa Bryant also delivered an emotional eulogy, in which she remembered her “boo-boo” and her “baby girl” Gigi. “God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” the mother-of-four said. “He had to bring them home to have them together… May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day.”

However, as moving as the speech was, a source revealed that Vanessa almost didn’t take to the podium that day. “Vanessa Bryant’s speech was always tentative until the very last minute,” the source recently told E! News.

Vanessa Bryant wasn't sure if she'd be too emotional to speak

Vanessa Bryant chose the date for the memorial — Feb. 24, 2020 — to represent both Gigi’s (2) and Kobe’s (24) jersey numbers, as well as the years Kobe and Vanessa were married (20). Yet, while she wound up giving a heartfelt and well-prepared speech, friends and family weren’t sure if Vanessa would address the crowd or not until talk show host Jimmy Kimmel introduced her.

According to E!‘s source, Vanessa gave Kimmel a “signal” as he presented a video montage about Kobe. “She, of course, was prepared with her speech either way, but keeping her tentative was a matter of how emotional she was and how comfortable she felt in that moment to make the speech,” the source noted. “Nobody knew if she was going to do it until [Jimmy] actually announced her.”

Another source told People that Vanessa “spent a lot of time on that, to say the exact right thing. It took everything she had.” “She’s exhausted but she knows that after [the memorial] she can rest,” the insider added. “She is never alone. There is always someone with her: family, friends, people who really care for her. She has times of weakness like you would expect, but she’s also very strong. She’s very determined that she will raise the other daughters in a way that they will be okay. And that she will be okay.”

Vanessa Bryant filed a wrongful death lawsuit the same day

Before the memorial service, Vanessa Bryant filed a 72-page lawsuit against Island Express Helicopters, the company that owned the helicopter that killed Kobe, Gigi, and seven others. According to BuzzFeed News, the lawsuit accuses pilot Ara George Zobayan of failing to “properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff,” failing to “obtain proper weather data prior” to the flight, failing to “abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy conditions,” and “improperly” flying the “helicopter into instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions.”

Vanessa’s suit also claims the helicopter shouldn’t have been allowed to fly in poor weather conditions and that the company in question should’ve taken Zobayan’s 2015 FAA citation into consideration, as the pilot was once disciplined for “violating the visual flight rule minimums by flying into an airspace of reduced visibility.”

Shortly after the crash, Island Express Helicopters released an official statement, in which it said its “top priority is providing assistance to the families of the passengers and the pilot.” However, in response to this recent development, the company said told TMZ it “will have no comment on the pending lawsuit.”

Vanessa Bryant continues to share her grief and memories on social media

Although Vanessa Bryant immediately turned her Instagram account private after Kobe and Gigi’s death, she ultimately switched her settings back to public to thank fans for their outpouring of support. “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” she wrote alongside a photo of her family, including Kobe and daughters Natalia, Gigi, Bianka, and Capri Bryant. “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”

“We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon,” she added. “I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way.”

Since then, Vanessa’s Instagram account has become an online celebration of her family’s life and love. From videos of their youngest daughter Capri a.k.a. Koko’s laughter to updates about the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, Vanessa’s social presence provides a place to remember and celebrate the Bryants together, and through their athletic foundation, family and fans will keep Kobe and Gigi’s legacy alive for generations to come.

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