On the morning of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service, news broke that his widow has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the company that owned the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter on which the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a Calabasas, California, hillside crash last month.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers are seeking unspecified damages from Island Express, arguing that fog conditions on Jan. 26 should have prevented the company from putting lives at unnecessary risk, according to TMZ. The lawsuit also alleges that Kobe Bryant’s longtime pilot, Ara George Zobayan, who died in the crash, was previously disciplined for violating visual flight rules in 2015.
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The lawsuit also says the pilot was going 180 miles per hour in the heavy fog in a steep decline.
The lawsuit claims the pilot failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff, failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight, failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy condition, failed to maintain control of the helicopter and failed to avoid “natural obstacles” in the flight path.
The lawsuit also alleges that the helicopter was unsafe, per TMZ. The New York Times reported earlier this month that while Zobayan was certified to use the helicopter’s sophisticated navigation system, Island Express was not, calling into question the legality of flying in the foggy condition. National Transportation Safety Board officials also announced that the helicopter was not equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System that could have alerted Zobayan prior to the crash.
“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,” Monday’s lawsuit read, according to L.A. Times reporter Nathan Fenno.
More than 20,000 ticketed fans arrived at Staples Center Monday morning out of tens of thousands who applied for tickets to the ceremony honoring Kobe and Gianna’s memory, according to ESPN.
Fans who attended received a picture book featuring the Bryant family.
NBA players, greats in attendance
Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Fox, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving and A.C. Green are among the current and former NBA players sighted at the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Boston Celtics players who were in town for Sunday’s game against the Lakers stayed for the memorial. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis shared images of their tickets on social media.
“She had rhythm and swag ever since she was a baby,” Vanessa said.
She described a confident, driven and talented teenager who spoke Mandarin and Spanish as an eighth-grader and gave pointers to the boy’s basketball team at her school “like the triangle offense.”“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA,” Vanessa said to applause. “She would have made a huge difference in women’s basketball.”
“I want my daughters to remember the amazing person, husband and father he was — the kind of man who wanted to teach future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes,” Vanessa said.
She closed with a message for Kobe.
‘God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together.
“Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
Women’s basketball greats honor Kobe, Gianna
WNBA and UConn great Diana Taurasi and reigning John Wooden Award winner and Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu paid tribute to both Kobe and Gianna.
“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “Gigi already had goals to play for UConn. That in itself showed her fearless mentality.”
Ionescu spoke of modeling her approach to the game after Bryant’s.
“Growing up I only knew one way to play the game of basketball,” Ionescu said. “Fierce, with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I loved the work even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.”
UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma then recounted speaking with Kobe about coaching Gigi’s youth basketball team and watching her play.
“Gianna passed it when she was open,” Auriemma said to laughs. “I thought ‘she’s not listening to her father.’”
Pelinka said that he was in church that Sunday morning when Kobe reached out to ask for help securing an internship for Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John and Keri Altobelli, who died in the crash along with their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was one of Gianna’s basketball teammates.
“I grabbed my phone and text Kobe back that I had seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted. It was now just past 9:30. Kobe text back explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl’s character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I text Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help get that done. A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven. “Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter… Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.”
He then recounted a time that Kobe challenged his son’s 12-year-old boy’s All-Star basketball team to a game against Gianna’s girl’s team.
“Our boys got smashed,” Pelinka said while admiring the precision of Gianna’s team under Kobe’s guidance.
Alicia Keys’ ‘Moonlight Sonata’ tribute
Kobe’s agent and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka shared a story about Bryant learning to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata” on piano by ear for Vanessa.
“By the end of the week, he had the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me without a mistake,” Pelinka said. “In my heart, I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s grandest feats for his deepest loves.”
Alicia Keys then took the stage to to play “Moonlight Sonata” accompanied by a string quartet.
MJ: ‘I’ll have to look at another crying meme’
Michael Jordan was the player Kobe’s game was most frequently compared to. Along with playing the same shooting guard position, the two shared the same intense competitive streaks and championship desire.
Jordan spoke about his relationship with Kobe as Kobe came up in the NBA.
“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor. Maybe it surprises people that Kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends. … He was like a little brother.”
Jordan said that Bryant would call him to ask for advice on basketball, business and “the triangle offense.”
“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “But then it turned into certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I can be.”
Jordan, in tears, found room for a joke at his own expense while honoring Kobe.
“Now he’s got me. I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next … I told my wife I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years.”
Shaq gets big laughs with Kobe story
Shaquille O’Neal provided perspective on Kobe like only he could, sharing a story about his early days playing with him en route to three NBA championships together.
“The day Kobe gained my respect, the guys were complaining, said ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” O’Neal said. “I said ‘I’ll talk to him.’
“I said ‘Kobe. There’s no I in team.’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an M-E in there mother f—er.’ I went back and told Rick [Fox] and Big Shot Bob [Horry], ‘just get the rebound. He’s not passing.’”
Christina Aguilera then sang a rendition of “Ave Maria” before the ceremony closed with Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film “Dear Basketball.”