8:55pm PT by Katie Kilkenny, Katherine Schaffstall
Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon Tear Up While Grieving Kobe Bryant: "He Was a Hero"
Though known for bringing the laughs every night on his late-night show, an emotional Jimmy Kimmel dedicated his entire one-hour episode show Monday night to pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.
At the top of the first episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! following Bryant's sudden death Sunday, the host noted that he and his producers eschewed a studio audience and guests: "Going forward with a comedy show didn't feel right given what happened yesterday, so I'd like to just speak to you directly," he said.
Kimmel launched into a remembrance of the basketball star from the perspective of an Angeleno who interacted with him on several occasions. "That was a punch in the gut for many of us," he said of Bryant's death. "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."
Kimmel, who had the athlete on his show 15 times, said he admired Bryant's work ethic. "Those of us who love the Lakers know [that] it seemed like he always came through. He always showed up to save the day.... He had a force of will, he never gave up. As an athlete, he was incredibly gifted — more than almost anyone, he was talented beyond reason — and yet, he worked harder than everyone. He worked harder than people with much less talent than he had."
The late-night host recalled sending Bryant a book when he had torn his Achilles tendon, and said that Bryant called him up to talk about the book in "maniacal detail." Not knowing enough about the book to answer some of Bryant's questions, Kimmel connected him to the book's author. Bryant also checked in with Kimmel when Kimmel's son was in the hospital, the host said, and made a point to meet him.
Without going into specifics, Kimmel implicitly acknowledged rape allegations that dogged Bryant: "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 [that] he loved his family, he worked very hard and he brought a lot of joy to a lot of people in this city."
Kimmel ended by tearing up and saying there was no "silver lining" to Sunday's news. Adding that he wanted to remember Bryant as the "bright light" that he was, Kimmel dedicated the rest of Monday's Live! to showing clips from some of his 15 interviews with the former Laker.
On NBC, The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon was also teary-eyed when he dedicated a portion of his monologue to the late athlete. "Kobe was such a life force, so strong, creative and inspired that in my head I thought that he was going to live forever." Fallon said that he met Bryant at a party when he was 21 years old and the latter was 17; Bryant volunteered to go on a beer run for the party and Fallon agreed to go with him. Fallon only did delivery service, but said that when Bryant showed the proprietor his ID and said he was a Laker, they were able to buy five cases of beer and "saved the party."
Fallon, breaking down, said that when he ran into Bryant later, they would laugh about how they met and talk about "how to be good dads." He added, "Let's honor Kobe, Gianna and the other lives that were lost by following his example: Love your family, love your teammates and outwork everyone in the gym."
Conan O'Brien also took a moment during his Monday night show to pay tribute to Bryant. "Many of the people who work here on our show have grown up in this city. Kobe was their hero. A lot of people on my staff today are just devastated," O'Brien said in his opening monologue.
The late-night host proceeded to explain that though much of the discussion has centered on the basketball star's "incredible gifts and prowess," O'Brien wanted to take a moment to "highlight another aspect of Kobe's talents." "He was very funny and charming," O'Brien said of Bryant. "Whenever he was on our show, he was just a joy to talk with and he always had the audience in the palm of his hand. That's the guy that I've been thinking about these past 24 hours and it's that memory that I would like to share with you tonight."
O'Brien then played clips of his previous interviews with the late athlete, showing Bryant and O'Brien sharing laughs and jokes together.
Meanwhile over at The Late Late Show, James Corden also took a moment to remember the late Bryant.
"It's still so hard to fathom the news yesterday that we lost Kobe Bryant. It didn't feel real when I heard it. It's so unspeakably sad," Corden said. The late-night host then went on to say that despite basketball having not played a "major part" in his life while growing up in Britain, "there are some athletes that transcend their sport before you ever get a chance to see them play and Kobe Bryant was one of those athletes."
Corden then reflected on his final interview with Bryant, who he said couldn't stop expressing his excitement to have the free time to "devote to his family and coach his daughter." "A man that achieved so much in his life, he was just so excited to get to be a dad for a while.... Our hearts break in this tragedy."
"I wish I could say something to make sense of it all. All I can think of is this, if you can, to take a moment to call up someone you love and just let them know."
Over on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the host remembered Bryant by reminiscing about his past appearances on the show.
"Kobe was a legend who will always be remembered for what he accomplished on the basketball court, but also remembered for his kindness in the times that he helped us give back to deserving people on our show," said DeGeneres.
Clips followed of Bryant surprising super fan Arike Ogunbowale and dropping by to help another fan play a basketball challenge on the show.
"Our hearts go out to Kobe's family and all the families who lost loved ones on Sunday," concluded DeGeneres. "Be kind to one another."
The Late Show was off on Monday, so host Stephen Colbert and bandleader Jon Batiste remembered Bryant on Tuesday.
Batiste reflected on attending the Grammys over the weekend, which paid tribute to the athlete. "It reminds you of how much of this life is just a vapor. We're here and even the mighty among us, those who seem like they'll live forever, the immortal ones can just be gone just like that," he said.
"With all the greatness that he left in the world, it seemed like he had so much more to go with," Batiste continued. "All of the people who were on the helicopter and his daughter, who had so much promise, it just kind of all hit us at one time."
The musician added that it was "hard to celebrate" at the Grammys because "everyone was in a really mournful, reflective mood." He continued, "It felt as if we lost something very important and had been reminded collectively of something also very important that we all have to face."
Batiste recalled meeting Bryant at the NBA All-Star Game in 2008. "He was just as great of a person, as personable, as great as he was on the basketball court," he said.
Colbert said that he never met Bryant, though he felt a "strange connection" to the family members of the victims of the crash. "I lost my father and two of my brothers when I was a boy to a plane crash that was also in heavy fog," he said. "One of the terrible things about that shock and heartbreaking unreality nightmare quality of someone huge in your life who just disappears — the center of your love disappearing in that moment — is not knowing what happened."
The host later recalled meeting a helicopter pilot who said it’s difficult to explain why helicopters go down because they don’t have black box recorders.
"Nothing will possibly improve this tragedy. While nothing will take away this heartache and this pain from this family that will be living with it for the rest of their lives, and all these people's families who will be living with a heartbreak and in the need of love and support for the rest of their lives for a pain that will never go away. Perhaps someone can take action to make sure that there are some ways to record what is happening in these helicopters so that it doesn't happen as often," he said.
"To do nothing after helicopters go down like this, and we lose greats like this, or we lose any person whose family is now in agony and in ignorance of what happened to their loved one, I think is unconscionable," Colbert continued. "It's better to know than not to know because if we know, we could possibly stop this from happening to someone else in the future."
Colbert concluded by sending his prayers to the families of those that died. "Know that there is something on the other side of this grief," he said.
The basketball legend died Sunday morning after flying in a helicopter when it crashed and erupted into flames, starting a small brush fire. Eight others died on board, including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star selection, led the Lakers in points, games played, three-pointers, steals and free throws. He was the No. 4 scorer in NBA history, having been recently passed by LeBron James.
Thousands of fans, many wearing Bryant jerseys, gathered outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and site of Sunday's Grammy Awards where Bryant was honored.
Stars including Shaquille O'Neal, Jack Nicholson, James and more took to social media to pay tribute to Bryant. Kimmel also took to Twitter to express his condolences to Bryant's family over the tragedy.
"He was great, charismatic & among the hardest-working athletes ever, but what impressed me most was how deeply-involved Kobe was with his 4 daughters. Pray for them, Vanessa, his parents & his fellow passengers' families on this sad and shocking day. We will never forget you Kobe," he tweeted.
In the wake of Bryant's death, the NBA has postponed the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the L.A. Clippers originally set to take place Tuesday.
Jan. 29, 11:14 a.m. This story has been updated with Stephen Colbert's comments.