The ceremony took place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, a year after it was originally postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vanessa Bryant made a moving acceptance speech on her late husband’s behalf as Jordan stood on the stage with her.
“Last February, I called Michael and asked if he would introduce Kobe tonight and he graciously accepted. Thank you for being here, Michael. Kobe admired you, this means so much to us,” Vanessa told Jordan.
Later in her speech, she referenced Jordan when she mentioned how her late husband learned to appreciate his fans after watching the Chicago Bulls icon when he was younger. “People don’t know this but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he remembered being a little kid sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” Vanessa said before looking at Jordan’s direction as the crowd cheered.
“He could recall the car ride, the convos 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 I asked him why he couldn’t 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,” the Bryant matriarch said.
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Also in her speech, Vanessa recalled having a conversation about the Hall of Fame ceremony with her Lakers great. “I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award. He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for Capri, he was so happy,” she said of their youngest daughter.
“He didn’t really talk about upcoming awards but he did mention this one a week before he and Gigi passed,” Vanessa added.
“My husband and I were sitting on our kitchen island, and he and I had a conversation about my mother[in-law] and father-in-law attending tonight’s enshrinement. I invited my mother[in-law] and father-in-law to tonight’s enshrinement to thank them one of the most amazing human beings into this world. Pam and Joe, thank you for raising Kobe to be exceptional. Thank you to all of Kobe’s family. Sharia, you’ve gone above and beyond. I love you,” she said about her sister-in-law.
Leading up to the ceremony, Jordan revealed how Bryant’s widow had personally chosen him to do the honors.
“I told her, ‘Look, I know this is a tough time. I’m always here if you need me,’ ” Jordan recalled in a recent interview with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN. “She answered back, ‘I would love it if you stood up for Kobe at the Hall of Fame.’ “
“It’s going to be a great honor, to be honest. It’s like standing up for a family member,” he continued. “[Bryant] paid me the highest respect by trying to emulate certain things I did. And I can only repay that by showing my support and admiration for a guy who I felt was one of the greatest to ever play the game.”
VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty
Jordan also revealed his final text exchange with Bryant, who died alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in January 2020.
“This tequila is awesome,” Bryant texted Jordan in early December 2019, referring to the Jordan-owned brand of tequila, Cincoro. After Jordan thanked Bryant, the two basketball legends then texted about family.
“Yes, sir. Family good?” Bryant asked.
“All good. Yours?” Jordan responded.
“All good,” Bryant said back.
According to ESPN, Jordan then changed the subject to Bryant’s coaching Gianna and her basketball team.
Jae C. Hong/AP
“Happy holidays,” Jordan wrote to Bryant before adding a laughing emoji, “and hope to catch up soon. Coach Kobe??!”
“Ah, back at you, man,” Bryant replied. “Hey, coach, I’m sitting on the bench right now, and we’re blowing this team out. 45-8.”
As another testament to their friendship, Jordan — who owns the Charlotte Hornets — spoke about Bryant during a memorial at Staples Center last year.
“It may be a surprise to people that Kobe and I were very close friends,” he said during the event. “He was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”
“I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant, that he was just trying to be a better person,” he continued, in part. “We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything, he was just trying to be a better person.”
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Bryant, widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, played for 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five NBA titles, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and an 18-time All-Star.
The late Lakers legend also holds the record for the second-most points ever scored in an NBA game at 81.