Jimmy Kimmel breaks down in tears during Kobe and Gianna Bryant memorial

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s opening remarks at the public memorial service for Kobe and Gianna Bryant had the late-night talk show and the audience in tears.

Taking the mic after Beyoncé performed both “XO” — which she said was one of Bryant’s favorite songs — and “Halo,” Kimmel was, of course, much more somber than he is each evening on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and perhaps more so than we’ve ever heard him. He had to stop speaking to steady his voice a few times.

“This is a sad day, but it is also a celebration of life, of their lives, and of life itself in the building where those of us who are Lakers fans and Kobe fans celebrated so many of the best times of our lives,” Kimmel told the crowd gathered at Staples Center in Los Angeles. “I don’t think any of us could have imagined this.”

Kimmel talked about the extraordinary effect Bryant’s death has had on his city. The longtime Los Angeles Lakers star and his 13-year-old daughter were two of nine passengers who died Jan. 26, when the helicopter taking them to Gianna’s (nicknamed Gigi) basketball game crashed in Calabasas, Calif.

“Everywhere you go,” Kimmel said, “you see his face, his number, Gigi’s face, Gigi’s number... everywhere, at every intersection. There are hundreds of murals painted by artists who are inspired, not because he is a basketball player, but because Kobe was an artist, too.”

Kimmel noted that tributes extended beyond Los Angeles to the rest of the world, even places where Kobe was a competitor.

“In places that he would be booed on the court, Kobe is missed,” Kimmel said.

He noted that Bill Russell, a legendary player for the Lakers’ rivals, the Boston Celtics, wore a Bryant jersey on Sunday, as the Celtics played the Lakers for the first time since the tragedy.

Then, Kimmel made his first joke: “I knew he would come to us eventually.”

He said that he’d been trying to come up with something positive that had come out of the deaths, but it’s been hard.

“The best thing I think I was able to come up with is this: gratitude,” Kimmel said. “It seems to me all we can do is be grateful for the time we had with them and for the time we have left with each other and that’s all.”

Kimmel also paid tribute to Bryant on the first episode of his show following the basketball star and philanthropist’s death. Right off, he explained that there was no studio audience that night.

“Going forward with a comedy show didn’t feel right considering what happened yesterday, so I’d like to just speak to you directly,” he said, ahead of an episode that featured excerpts of Bryant’s 15 appearances on his show.

The talk show host said he and Bryant had a sweet relationship over the years, swapping well wishes for each other’s families.

“That was a punch in the gut for many of us,” Kimmel said. “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. He was so strong and handsome and smart and energetic. He was a hero.”

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