Michael Jordan Delivers Moving Speech At Kobe Bryant Memorial

The Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Lakers, was a much more somber venue on Feb. 24, 2020 when the arena was used to honor one of the team's very own legends. A memorial was held for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna "Gigi" Bryant to celebrate their lives that were taken all too soon. Kobe and Gigi died in a tragic helicopter crash, along with seven others, on Jan. 26, 2020 in Calabasas while en route to a youth basketball tournament. Gigi and her father shared a love of basketball and that was certainly mentioned during the memorial.

Vanessa Bryant — Kobe's wife and the mother to his four children, including 13-year-old Gigi — took the stage to deliver an emotional speech about the "most amazing husband" and their daughter's "sweet grace," as well as her athletic abilities. Vanessa wasn't the only one to get in front of the crowd. Beyoncé performed "XO," which she mentioned was "one of his favorite songs." Shaquille O'Neal brought the audience a dose of laughter with an anecdote involving the old adage "There's no 'I' in 'team,'" while Michael Jordan gave a tearful speech that will likely move you to tears yourself. Let's take a closer look at Jordan's heartfelt tribute.

Michael Jordan compared Kobe Bryant to his 'little brother'

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan shared more than just the basketball court: They had a close bond, no matter how competitive they got. At "A Celebration of Life," Jordan spoke to their strong connection. "Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends," the former Chicago Bulls player said through tears. "Kobe was my dear friend. He was like a little brother."

The 57-year-old further explained the analogy. "All of us have... little brothers, little sisters who for whatever reason always tend to get in your stuff. Your closet, your shoes, everything. It was a nuisance, if I can say that word. But that nuisance turned into love over a period of time, just because [of] the admiration that they had for you as big brothers, big sisters," Jordan reflected.

Like a sibling, Kobe frequently sought Jordan's advice about the sport. "He used to call me, text me, 11:30, 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning, talking about post-up moves, footwork, and sometimes the triangle," he recalled. "At first, it was an aggravation, but then it turned into a certain passion." And at the end of his heart-wrenching speech, Jordan brought things full-circle: "I promise you from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, Little Brother."

Kobe Bryant had 'passion like you would never know'

Kobe Bryant's love of basketball was undeniable and that's something Michael Jordan spoke to in his tribute. "This kid had passion like you would never know," Jordan said. "If you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme... to try to get it. Either ice cream, Cokes, hamburgers, whatever you have a love for... If you have to beg someone, you would go get it. What Kobe Bryant was to me was the inspiration that someone truly cared about the way either I played the game or the way that he wanted to play the game."

Kobe's dedication helped Jordan better himself, too. "He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be. As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be," he said. "To do that, you had to put up with the aggravation, the late-night calls, or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant that he was just trying to be a better person, a better basketball player."

As someone who "gave every last ounce of himself to what he was doing," Kobe always challenged Jordan. He shared, "I admired him because his passion you rarely see, someone who's looking and trying to improve each and every day." That same mindset, Jordan said, extended beyond the court and into Kobe's roles as a father and husband.

There was a moment of lightness in Michael Jordan's speech, too

Bringing some laughter to an otherwise heavy event, Michael Jordan referenced the famous Crying Jordan meme in his speech at Kobe Bryant's memorial. As explained by NPR, that popular meme of the basketball player's tear-stained face traces all the way back to his 2009 hall of fame induction. And now, as Jordan joked, there may be a new meme in circulation, since he understandably couldn't hold back tears when talking about Kobe.

The Staples Center erupted in laughter when Jordan started to say, "Now, he's got me... I'll have to look at another crying meme for the next..." He shook his head before proceeding to explain, "I told my wife I wasn't going to do this because I didn't want to see that [meme] for the next three or four years. That is what Kobe Bryant does to me."

Shifting to a more thoughtful reflection on the tears shed, Jordan said, "I'm sure pretty Vanessa and his friends can say the same thing. He knows how to get to you in a way that affects you personally, even if he's being a pain-in-the-ass." That last part got some laughs too, before he talked about Kobe's uncanny "way he can bring out the best in you." "He did that for me," Jordan declared.

Michael Jordan encouraged everyone to follow in Kobe Bryant's footsteps

Between the anecdotes and the tears, there was one big takeaway from Michael Jordan's speech about Kobe Bryant. Jordan encouraged everyone to follow Kobe's lead by living in the moment. "Kobe never left anything on the court and I think that's what he would want for us to do. No one knows how much time we have. That's why we must live in the moment. We must enjoy the moment," he said. 

That same theme also applies beyond sports and into personal relationships. "We must reach and see and spend as much time as we can with our families and friends and the people that we absolutely love," Jordan continued. "To live in the moment means to enjoy each and every one that we come in contact with."

At one point during the speech, Jordan admitted, "When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died," but it's clear that Jordan is doing everything he can to do Kobe's legacy justice and allow his passion to live on.