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Read Geno Auriemma’s speech from the Kobe Bryant memorial

Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma speaks at the Kobe & Gianna Bryant Celebration of Life on Monday at Staples Center.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“We have some amazing women in this room and you just heard from three of them. I’m Geno Auriemma the coach of the UConn women’s basketball program.

“A lot of people are going to talk about basketball today. And I don’t know that that’s why I’m here. I’m not here for the basketball court. I tried to write a long, flowing speech about basketball, and I can’t do it. There’s too many thoughts in my head ever since Vanessa asked me to speak, too many things that made me realize that I’m here as a father, not as a basketball coach. ...

“So the thoughts that I started to have after I was asked to speak were obviously about all the people that were on board. And if you’re a father, a grandfather, you feel a different kind of emotion when there’s children involved. Because this is always about the children. We’ve lived our lives. We have a little bit left; they’re just starting their lives. And then my next thought came to the original team that Kobe was responsible for: Natalia, Bianca, Capri, Vanessa.

“Because we’re always teammates, you know, we’re always on a team. Sometimes it’s a big team, sometimes it’s a small team. ... Kobe and I shared some history, he started in Italy, went to Philadelphia, and then went to the limelight and the lights and glamour of L.A. I went to Philadelphia, went to Philly, and went to cows up in Storrs.

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“That was a joke because there’s no lights, there’s no glitz and glamour, in Storrs, Conn. And how ironic that he would talk to me about coaching. The uncoachable one wants to talk about coaching — probably the most uncoachable player in the NBA during his career wants to know about coaching. I wanted to know why. He said, ‘I’m coaching my daughter’s team.’ I said, ‘Oh my God. That poor kid.’ So when I watched the highlights of her playing, on about the third or fourth time she touched the ball, Gianna passed it when she was open. I thought, ‘She’s not listening to her father.’

“So [he would] call and say, ‘What kind of defensive drills should I do; we have practice and I want to work on defense.’ ... I say, ‘Kobe, they’re 13 years old. I think you ought to just say, hey, you know, see the kid with the ball, try not to let her go by you...

“Keep it kind of simple, you know. He said, ‘I want to know like what are the rotations when they drive.’ I said, ‘Come on, come on, come on.’

“So these are the conversations that we had both as basketball people and as dads who had coached their kids. ... And I remember when Gigi came, as you saw in that video, to ... the very first game that she came to, and she came into the locker room. And here she is. And the look on her face. The smile, the way her eyes just took everything in, how excited she was to be around, in her mind, royalty. ...

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“And the most impressive thing about that point in time was how Kobe stepped as far back as he could. So anyone taking pictures, anyone there would not know that this was Kobe Bryant’s daughter. This was her moment. This was her time to shine. This was her time to experience all the things that he’s experienced in his life. He was being dad then; he wasn’t being Kobe Bryant. And he was allowing Gigi to be Gigi and not Kobe Bryant’s daughter. In today’s day and age, that’s a hell of a thing for parents to be able to do. I’m going to leave you with just two things. We got a letter I gotta tell you about. You didn’t see it, but she did meet the Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team. ...

“And when they came to UConn and they sat behind the bench. And there’s Dad, bringing his daughter to a game. And they have their shirts on and she’s got this coat on and she has her hat on, and she’s just a little kid at a game. And again, I felt more like a dad than I felt like a basketball coach, because I’ve done that with my kids.

“Lastly, No. 24, No. 8 and No. 2, those are basketball numbers. Those are numbers in the past. Those are numbers that we’re not going to get back. [But] what we do have today [are] kids like Dianna who have been inspired to do more, to work harder, to strive for more. And the number ... of kids in the future, and women, who are going to be inspired by Gigi’s life. [And the] fathers inspired by Kobe to really be fathers. The way a father is supposed to be.

“In this room is an incredible amount of talent. In this room is maybe the greatest collection of talent that I’ve ever been around. But in this room there’s a family. And there’s still a team back home. And they still have a great coach. And I’m going to be rooting for that team. ... Thank you very much.”


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