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Thousands pay tribute to Kobe Bryant in LA memorial service

Los Angeles, Feb 25 (IANS) Sports stars, celebrities and fans attended a memorial service for Los Angeles Lakers legend and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who died in a helicopter crash last month along with seven other people.

Titled “A Celebration of Life,” the Monday ceremony held at Staples Center, Bryant’s home arena throughout most of his illustrious career, drew around 20,000 people – including NBA all-time great Michael Jordan and world famous recording artists Beyonce, Kanye West and Jennifer Lopez – and was hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, a personal friend of the basketball superstar, reports Efe news.

Beyonce opened the ceremony with a rendition of her song “XO,” which she said was Bryant’s personal favourite.

The tribute, which thousands of other people followed on big screens in different parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, then continued with an emotional speech by Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, who expressed her appreciation for all the love shown to her family since the January 26 helicopter crash.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” she said of her late husband and daughter. “He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”

Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, to whom Bryant — nicknamed “The Black Mamba” — was often compared because of his spectacular array of moves and fierce competitive drive, was also among those in attendance.

“He was like a little brother,” the teary 57-year-old Jordan said. “As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”

The date chosen for the public tribute, 2/24/20, has special symbolic significance for the Bryant family because Gianna — an aspiring basketball player — wore the number two, Kobe wore the number 24 for most of his career and the 2008 NBA MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP played 20 seasons in the league, all of them with the Lakers.

Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Bryant’s foundation, whose name has been changed from the Mamba Sports Foundation to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation to honour both father and daughter.

The Bryants were buried on February 7 in a private funeral service at a cemetery in Orange County, near the family’s residence in Southern California. Kobe is survived by his wife and three daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri.

Separately on Monday, attorneys for Vanessa Bryant filed a lawsuit against the operator of the helicopter that crashed last month in Southern California, US media reported.

The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters, Island Express Holding Corp. and the estate of the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was among those who died in the accident.

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” the 27-count lawsuit said.

The suit alleges that Zobayan did not use “ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft.”

It states that on the day of the fatal crash the pilot was travelling at a speed of 180 miles (290 kilometres) per hour in dense fog before the helicopter crashed into a hill in Calabasas, California.

The 41-year-old retired Lakers great, who was flying with Gianna and six family friends at the time of the crash, frequently travelled by helicopter to avoid Los Angeles’s notorious traffic problems.

According to US Federal Aviation Administration records, Zobayan was reprimanded for violating federal flight rules in 2015, when he disregarded air traffic control orders and flew into airspace near Los Angeles International Airport.

–IANS

aak/bg

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