The event came nearly a week after Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash last Sunday that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. In a heartfelt speech at the NFL Honors, Manning reflected on his connection to Bryant and mourned the loss of the basketball icon.
"Last week, the sports world lost a shining light with the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant," Manning said. "I was lucky to call Kobe my friend. Our careers overlapped almost identically. We even retired within just a few months of each other. I remember meeting him for the first time in the Lakers locker room in 1999. We immediately recognized mutual appreciation for what it took to do our jobs well."
The NFL star continued, "His sport was different, but the way that Kobe prepared, the way that he analyzed the game, that was very familiar. Kobe loved not just basketball, but all sports. He was a superstar and a fan, a huge admirer of his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Kobe gave a pep talk to the team before a playoff game the year they won the Super Bowl."
"Kobe understood the importance of cultivating the future of sports and more than that, of sharing the valuable lessons sports teach about life," Manning noted. "He didn’t just give advice, though. Kobe was always asking questions. 'Hey Peyton, what are you doing at the line of scrimmage? Why did you make this audible?' He was trying to understand football as deeply as possible."
"Like a true champion, he never stopped learning. We knew him as a superhero in his world, but as a curious, passionate fan in ours," Manning expressed.
He concluded his speech: "The NFL joins the country and the world in mourning the loss of nine individuals who left their own indelible imprint on the lives of many. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with their families. May God’s peace be with all of them and I sure do miss my friend Kobe Bryant."
Tributes for Bryant have rolled in since the news of his tragic death last Sunday. On Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers honored the NBA legend at the Staples Center in their first game since his death, and the venue has turned into a shrine to Bryant.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bryant's wife, Vanessa, has requested some of the mementos left by fans outside of the Staples Center.
"Vanessa had reached out to us and said, 'Our family would like the items out there.' So we’re going to catalog every one of them," Lee Zeidman, the president of the Staples Center told the newspaper. "By that I mean, T-shirts, letters, basketballs, stuffed animals, toys. We’re going to put those in specially made containers and we’re going to ship them to the family."
See more in the video below.