Thousands gather in Los Angeles to pay tribute to basketball star Kobe Bryant

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Basketball superstars and celebrities from the world of sport and music congregated to pay tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant at a sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles.

They were joined by 20,000 mourners for the Celebration of Life for Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, who were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash in January.

Fighting back tears, fellow basketball great Michael Jordan paid tribute to his close friend, saying: “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died.”

Michael Jordan fought back tears as he paid tribute to Kobe Bryant (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

All proceeds from the event will go to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which provides sports opportunities to the children of under-privileged communities and in particular girls and women.

Bryant’s wife Vanessa spoke of her memories of her husband which she said were far removed from his reputation as a driven basketball hero and Oscar winner.

“I couldn’t see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player – he was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children,” she said.

<figcaption class='imgFCap lazyload'>Vanessa Bryant remembered her 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)</figcaption>
Vanessa Bryant remembered her 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

“He was my everything – Kobe and I have been together since I was 17-and-a-half-years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant, and his protector.”

Vanessa Bryant went on to pay tribute to Gianna, an enthusiastic basketball player who often accompanied her father to matches and was already being tipped as a future star of the women’s game.

“Gigi was very competitive, like her daddy, but Gianna had sweet grace about her.

When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died

“Her smile was like sunshine. Her smile took up her entire face, like mine. Kobe always said she was me. She had my fire, my personality and sarcasm, she was tender and loving on the inside.

“She had the best laugh. It was infectious. It was pure and genuine.

“I truly feel she made positive changes for the WNBA players now. They knew Gigi’s goal was to eventually play in the WNBA.

<figcaption class='imgFCap lazyload'>Alicia Keys performed at the Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)</figcaption>
Alicia Keys performed at the Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

“I’m still so proud of Gianna. She made a difference and was kind to everyone she met in the 13 years she was here on earth.”

Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera performed at the ceremony, with the latter providing an emotional rendition of ‘Ave Maria’.

Fellow celebrities in the audience included Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who were friends of the Bryants, Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg and basketball greats Stephen Curry, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

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