“We don’t have a studio audience here tonight because – going forward with a comedy show didn’t feel right considering what happened yesterday – so I’d like to just speak to you directly,” Kimmel said in his opening monologue.
Kobe, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with 7 others on Sunday in Calabasas. Kimmel, 52, called the tragedy “a punch in the gut for many of us.”
“Kobe was — and I know this might not make sense – but he was just the last person you could have ever imagined something like this happening to,” Kimmel said. “He was so strong — and handsome — and smart — and energetic — he was a hero.”
“And when I say that, I don’t mean a hero like real heroes — like firefighters, or doctors and nurses — who actually save lives,” Kimmel continued. “I don’t mean to compare what he did for a living to what they do. I know there are more important things than basketball. Almost everything is more important.”
“But Kobe was a hero in the way Superman is a hero,” the comedian explained. “He was so big and full of life, it was almost like he was a fictional character. A real-life superhero — with a costume and everything — walking amongst us.”
Kimmel continued to remember Bryant for his legendary career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Those of us who love the Lakers know — it seemed like he always came through. He always showed up to save the day. He wanted to save the day. He had a force of will, he never gave up,” Kimmel said.
“As an athlete, he was incredibly gifted — more than almost anyone, he was talented beyond reason — and yet, he worked harder than everyone. He worked harder than people with much less talent than he had,” Kimmel said, taking note of how inspiring the basketball star was.
“He came to LA when he was a teenager and, unlike almost every other superstar athlete, he never left. In his 20 year career, he only wore two uniforms: for the Lakers and the United States Olympic team. There were times when it seemed like he would leave, but he didn’t. He stayed until the end.”
“He is someone almost everyone in this city loved,” Kimmel said. “And not just Lakers fans – everyone – would light up when they saw him. I saw it many times. He was special.”
“He loved being a father,” Kimmel said. “When my son had heart surgery, Kobe checked in with me repeatedly. He made a point, once Billy was out of the hospital to meet him. He wanted to meet him. And from time to time, he’d check in on how he was doing.”
Kimmel asked viewers to pray for Gianna, who also perished in the crash, as well as the others on the helicopter, the Altobelli family, Christina Mauser’s family, the Chester family, and pilot Ara Zobayan.
“I can’t imagine how much they are missed,” Kimmel said. “This was a terrible loss for those families, and for the Lakers, for Kobe’s teammates, for his fans. There’s no silver lining here, it’s just awful.”
“It’s all bad. It’s all sad,” Kimmel said in conclusion. “He was a bright light, and that’s how I want to remember him.”
Kimmel’s fellow late night host Jimmy Fallon also grew emotional during the opening monologue of The Tonight Show when remembering his late friend, whom he met years ago when they had both just moved to Los Angeles.
“Kobe was such a life force, so strong and creative and inspired that in my head I thought that he would live forever,” Fallon said before telling the story of how he and the NBA star met.
“I met Kobe when he was 17 and I was 21. He was a rookie on the Lakers and I was just starting out on the comedy scene in LA. We were at a party and we didn’t know anyone at the party, so we just started talking. I said, ‘Hey what do you do?’ and he said ‘I play basketball’ and I go ‘Where?’ and he goes ‘For the Lakers.’ I go ‘Wow,’” Fallon recounted.
“We just got along, we hit it off. He was telling me he was into poetry. I met his sister. Then the guy that was having the party said, ‘Hey guys who wants to make a beer run?’ and Kobe wasn’t drinking he was 17, so he goes ‘I’ll do it, Jimmy you want to come?’”
“We drive down Sunset Blvd. to this place called Pink Dot. So, I go in and I open the door and it’s locked and the guy goes ‘Sorry, I can’t sell you anything.’ And I go, ‘We just want to get the beer right there’ and he’s like ‘Yeah, I can’t do that. That’s not how this place works. We’re delivery only. Kobe then takes out his ID and puts it up against the glass and he goes ‘I’m a Laker’ and the guy opened the door and we walked away with 5 cases of beer and we saved the party,” Fallon continued.
“Kobe went on to become a legend. When we’d run into each other over the years, we’d laugh about the night we first met,” Fallon said as tears filled his eyes. “We’d laugh at all the good things that happened since and we’d laugh at how much fun it was to raise kids. Kobe had 4 daughters and I had 2 daughters and today he and one of his daughters are gone.”
“Let’s honor Kobe, Gianna and the other lives lost. Love your family, love your teammates and outwork everyone else in the gym. To Vanessa and all those affected by this tragedy, we love you and we’ll always be there for all of you. Kobe, when we meet again, we’re going on a beer run,” Fallon concluded.
James Corden, Conan O’Brien and Ellen Degeneres also took time during their respective talk shows to honor the athlete.
Bryant and his daughter died alongside Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, John Altobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter Alyssa Altobelli. The group was headed to a travel basketball game, ESPN reported.
Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.