Barack Obama Paid Tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant in His NBA All-Star Weekend Speech

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Barack Obama Paid Tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant in His NBA All-Star Weekend Speech

Former President Barack Obama spoke at the NBA All-Star Weekend Newsmaker Brunch Saturday and in his remarks paid tribute to late Laker Kobe Bryant, who, with his daughter Gianna and seven others, perished in a helicopter crash last month.

“That loss is something I know many are still grappling with,” said Obama. “Particularly Kobe, because he was with his daughter and those families and those children and those of us who have had the joy and privilege of being parents and taking kids to ball games and then rooting for our children and seeing our dreams and hopes passed on to them. Nothing is more heartbreaking.”

Bryant and the former president had known one another for years prior to Bryant’s death. In January, former Obama advisor David Axelrod shared a story of a 2010 encounter between the NBA legend and basketball-fan president. To mark his 49th birthday, the president invited NBA players to join him for a pick-up game. And according to Axelrod, Bryant disapproved of the fact that some of the athletes were going a little easy on the president.

” So, Kobe called two of the NBA stars over for a little, good-natured tongue-lashing,” Axelrod told People Magazine. “‘You and you!’ he said, pointing to Chris Paul and Derek Fisher, two of the league’s most notorious ball hawkers. ‘The two meanest little MFs in the league and you won’t get within seven feet of that guy. Come on, y’all, play some ball!'”

“The message was clear, and oh so Kobe: No mercy — not even for the commander-in-chief. At his game. On his birthday!” said Axelrod.

On Saturday, the former president also participated in a panel discussion alongside NBA players Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and ESPN’s Mike Wilbon. “Barack Obama reflected on his last convo with Kobe and Vanessa Bryant,” tweeted ESPN reporter Marc J. Spears, “saying the late Lakers star told him he didn’t miss basketball because he was focused on being great off the court.”

Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.

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