Column: Hall of Fame induction painful reminder of Kobe Bryant’s loss

Vanessa Bryant stands with daughters Capri and Bianka after speaking on behalf of Kobe.
Vanessa Bryant stands with daughters Capri and Bianka after speaking on behalf of Kobe during the 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction Saturday.
(Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant should have been there.

He should have been sitting in the front row with Vanessa.

He should have been standing on the dais next to Michael Jordan.

He should have spoken at the lectern, joking about being a ball hog, ribbing Shaquille O’Neal, thanking Jerry West, preaching the “Mamba mentality.”


Lord, it would have been some speech.

It should have been wonderful watching Kobe Bryant being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Instead, his absence was agonizing.

What was supposed to be a reminder of his greatness was, instead, a reminder of the greatness of his loss.

In ceremonies at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Kobe’s presence should have joyfully dominated a class that included greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Instead, his void was sadly apparent in various speeches by folks who clearly just didn’t know what to say.

At one point, Garnett referred to him as “Kob” as if he was sitting right there. The camera stayed on Garnett, because there was nowhere to pan.

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Tamika Catchings paid homage to all of her fellow inductees except for Bryant, at which point she recognized Vanessa, who looked like she was going to cry.

Tim Duncan thanked, “the late, great Kobe Bryant” and it is still strange to hear those words in that sequence.

It was all so hard. What was trumpeted all week as a moment of glory instead became an exercise in pain.

“I can see him now, arms folded, with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some s—-?’’ Vanessa said in her acceptance speech.


Vanessa Bryant talks about the life of Kobe Bryant and what he meant to his daughters and family during his Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

May 15, 2021

It was compelling when Jordan accompanied Vanessa to the stage for the ceremony’s final address. But, unlike at Bryant’s memorial service, Jordan didn’t speak, he simply stood in the background, eyes filled with tears.

This should have been Kobe’s moment, and Jordan appeared uncomfortable being on the stage without him.

Vanessa, speaking publicly for only the second time since Kobe’s death, was as courageously elegant as when she delivered a eulogy at his memorial service. But his glory could not be trumpeted without first accounting for his loss.

“I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,” she said. “He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was really looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for [youngest daughter] Capri. He was so happy.”

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After recognizing Bryant’s parents, Joe and Pam, and his sister, Sharia, she admitted that she couldn’t thank anyone else individually. Without Kobe’s guidance, she was afraid she would leave someone out.

“If my husband were here tonight, he’d have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame, family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents,” she said. “This is one of the many hard parts about not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you. To all those who helped him get here, you know who you are, and I thank you on his behalf.”

So Kobe’s absence also meant the absence of public recognition for the Buss family, Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Shaq, Pau Gasol, and others who were so instrumental in his success. While Garnett and Duncan both poignantly thanked their basketball muses, Kobe never got the chance, and that was tough to watch.

In lieu of individual public gratitude, Vanessa opted for a twist that Kobe would have loved. Ending her 10-minute speech in an open letter, she simply thanked him.

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“Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be,” she said. “Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes. Thank you for always trying to be better.”

She thanked him for being the great girl dad and family man.

“Thank you for waking up at 3 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning, and for dropping our girls off at school, only to go to practice, come home and pick up the girls from school whenever you could,” she said. “Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school show-and-tell, or any games our daughters played.”

She concluded with the best embrace she could offer.

“Congratulations baby, all of your hard work and sacrifices paid off … you did it, you’re in the Hall of Fame now,” she said. “You’re a true champ. You’re not just an MVP, you’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”

Her voice finally broke when reciting his name. As she stepped from the lectern, the crowd stood and cheered while chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be’’ could be heard from the rafters.

Kobe Bryant was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night, with widow Vanessa giving the acceptance speech.

May 15, 2021

He should have been there to hear them. He should have been there to hug her. One of the most justified inductions into the Hall of Fame was muted by the unfairness of it all.

Earlier in the ceremony, Bryant was the last person honored during a memorial video remembering the lives of basketball figures who died in the last year.
As Ne-Yo sang “Incredible,” Bryant appeared on the screen with a message.

“I wanted to be remembered as a player that didn’t waste a moment, didn’t waste a day, lived every day as if he was the 12th guy on the bench,” he said.

On a day he finally entered the Hall of Fame, if only he had been there to see his wish granted.