Kobe Bryant appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! far more than on any other late-night talk show—15 times over the past decade and a half, most recently this past September. And no late-night host loved him more than Jimmy Kimmel.
“Tonight’s show is going to be different from our usual show,” Kimmel began, standing on a dark, empty stage. “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.”
From there, the late-night host shared his deeply personal reaction to the news that Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter accident over the weekend. “That was a punch in the gut for many of us,” Kimmel said.
“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 continued. “He was so strong and handsome and smart and energetic—he was a hero.”
Kimmel admitted that while “almost everything is more important than basketball,” Bryant “was a hero in the way Superman is a hero… a real-life superhero, with a costume and everything, walking amongst us.”
“Those of us who love the Lakers know, it seemed like he always came through,” he said. “He always showed up to save the day. He wanted to save the day. He had a force of will. He never gave up.”
Beyond the talent, Kimmel said, “We also loved him because he was ours. We watched him grow up here. He came to L.A. when he was a teenager and unlike almost every other superstar athlete, he never left.”
Kimmel called Bryant “intensely curious” and “always learning, always improving,” adding, “he had a hunger for it.”
“I had many conversations with Kobe off of television and they always involved his daughters. Always,” Kimmel said, his voice catching. “Once he retired from basketball, his life revolved around their lives. He was very proud of them. He loved being a father.” After his infant son had heart surgery, Kimmel said Bryant would check in with him “repeatedly.”
In an allusion to some of the more troubling details in Bryant’s past, the host said, “I know he wasn’t a perfect person. I understand that. My intention is not to canonize him. Or to make judgments about things I don’t know anything about. But I will say, he loved his family, he worked very hard and he brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in this city. And we’re going to miss him.”
After specifically mentioning the other victims of the crash, Kimmel said, “There’s no silver lining here. It’s all bad. It’s all sad.” He began to cry as he added, “He was a bright light. And that’s how I want to remember him.”
Instead of going on to present a normal episode, Kimmel spent the rest of the show playing clips from some of those 15 times he sat down with his friend on TV.