The NFL honored its own on Saturday night during the NFL Honors awards show, celebrating the Hall of Fame selections this year and the outstanding players throughout the season. But one player honored the night before the Super Bowl never played football or stepped on the field. That honor belonged to late NBA star and Lakers icon Kobe Bryant.
Peyton Manning got the honor of paying tribute to his "friend" and fellow athlete on behalf of the entire NFL. The NBA great was killed alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others during a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in California.
Manning's comments on stage echoed much of his statement made earlier in the week, citing Bryant as his friend stretching back to an immediate connection in 1999 and as a shining light of the sports community.
"It was a real honor to be asked by Kobe. He had this fabulous, creative mind and he was always wanting to learn more," Manning said in a statement earlier in the week. "He was a friend of mine. Our careers basically overlap. He was always asking me questions about football – what're you saying out there, what're you doing, take me behind the ropes.
"He created [ his ESPN series ‘Detail'] for the NBA. He wanted to take people behind the ropes and explain it in a way that you understand. So he asked me to do it for football. It was a real honor for me to do it.
"[He was] my friend, I will miss him. It's real hard to comprehend."
Manning's arrival on stage is only the latest tribute to Bryant from the world of sports. Giants star Saquon Barkley paid tribute to Bryant in his own way, sporting a Los Angeles Lakers championship jacket similar to the one worn by Wiz Khalifa during Friday's Staples Center tribute.
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The Lakers and most of the sports world were focused on Friday's game, the first for the team since the tragic accident that too Bryant's life. Usher was in attendance to perform "Amazing Grace" to start off the pre-game tribute, followed by a video montage accompanied by musician Ben Hong.0comments
LeBron James also gave his own speech on Bryant and his connection to the NBA, basketball in general, and the sports world as a whole. While he was brought to tears during "The National Anthem" by Boyz II Men, James spoke from the heart and tossed his prepared notes away.
A true memorial to Bryant is likely to be planned for the future, but the tributes to this point have been beautifully overwhelming.