“We loved him because he was ours,” was how Jimmy Kimmel opened his format-breaking Monday episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which dismissed the usual studio audience and roster of guests in favor of a show-long tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Airing in Los Angeles, Kimmel began his show by describing how, for that city’s people especially, the shocking accidental death of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday has hit like “a punch in the gut.” Almost all the late-night hosts prefaced their Monday shows looking, indeed, gut-punched as they eulogized Bryant, calling upon their many times interviewing the ever media-friendly star to express their own shock and sadness.
James Corden spoke about how “unspeakably sad” Bryant’s death is, noting how Bryant had told him upon retiring from the Lakers in 2016 that he was “excited to have all this free time,” especially to be with his family. Jimmy Fallon stumbled trying to hold back his emotions as he told an anecdote about how the 17-year-old Bryant and the 21-year-old Fallon met at a Hollywood party where they didn’t know anyone, and how Kobe saved the day by showing his ID to the reluctant proprietor of a delivery-only Pink Dot (saying simply, “I’m a Laker”), thus enabling the pair to procure five cases of beer to keep the party going. Noting that the underage and in-training Kobe wasn’t drinking, Fallon praised Bryant as a “life force” and shared how the two would occasionally discuss “all the stupid mistakes” they made “trying to figure out how to be good dads.”
But, as Fallon explained how he’d go on with his regular show that night because of Bryant’s example of “digging deeper and getting back to work,” it was Kimmel who, instead, hit pause on the usual late-night chit-chat to introduce a series of career-spanning clips of Bryant on his show. And, sure, that’s Hollywood chit-chat, too, but, as Kimmel put it, “He was a bright light, and that’s how I want to remember him.” Calling Bryant the talk show guest, “naturally very funny and charming,” Kimmel tried to sum up his and his fellow Angelenos’ disbelief at the news of Kobe Bryant’s death. “I know there are more important things than basketball,” offered Kimmel before explaining that, for basketball fans, Bryant was “a hero like Superman is a hero.” “He always showed up to save the day,” said the tearful Kimmel, offering up his assessment that “ a superstar doesn’t have to be a great guest, and he was.” You can watch Kimmel’s monologue about Bryant, as well as the whole episode, below.
Kimmel did attempt some grounding of the understandable hagiography surrounding Bryant’s death, feinting toward a reference to the sexual assault allegation that threatened Bryant’s marriage, career, and public image. Anyone attempting to sum up the troubled, complicated like of a beloved public figure just after his death is put in the same difficult position of acknowledging the good with the bad, and Kimmel, to his credit, was the only host to at least nod toward Bryant’s past. “Yes, I know he was not a perfect person, I understand that,” said Kimmel in the middle of his eulogy, adding, “My intention is not to canonize him or to make judgements about anything I don’t know anything about.” Fair enough. Still, as Kimmel urged viewers to donate to the undeniably worthy Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, readers can also make note of the needs of organizations like RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), and survivors of sexual assault who are also processing Kobe Bryant’s passing, and the inescapable media coverage of it.