First the first time, the ESPYs honored three retiring athletes on Wednesday night, with Justin Timberlake presenting the Icon Award to the trio.
Ex-Denver Bronco Peyton Manning, former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and Olympic gold medalist and soccer player Abby Wambach received the honor at the annual awards show. All three were on hand to accept the award in person.
“Kobe, Peyton, Abby: Before they all decided to say goodbye this past year, they had a lot in common,” Timberlake said in his speech. “They were touted as stars from the start.”
“Good would’ve been a disappointment,” he went on. “Even great would’ve underwhelmed.”
It then showed clips of some of the athletes’ greatest moments — and worst, including Wambach’s head injury, Petyon’s neck injury and Bryant’s several medical setbacks. But, as the clips showed, the stars rose again.
“Their primes were as great, as legendary as any in history,” Timberlake said. “Super Bowl titles, Olympic gold medals, NBA championships, obliterated records. These are the achievements that are supposed to make you immortal.”
“They just stapled her head. Sorry, that just hit me,” Timberlake added of Wambach’s head injury, eliciting laughs from the audience.
The trio then took the stage, with Manning calling out the fans. “Sports would be nothing without the fans,” he said. “The Super Bowl wouldn’t mean anything, the World Cup wouldn’t mean anything, the NBA Finals wouldn’t mean anything without the fans. I’m looking forward to having a great time being a fan again.”
Wambach called Manning and Bryant her “heroes” before launching into her speech.
“For me, it was never about trying to be the best in the world, or scoring more goals than anyone else,” she said. “It was about being the best that I could. I wanted people to see who was.”
“We’re willing to be true to ourselves and speak up when there’s something to say,” she added.
Chants of “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe” rang out in the audience when it was Bryant’s turn. And the legendary NBA player may be retired from the game, but if his speech was any indication, he’s not done yet.
“I felt an impressive 17 for 65 season would be a bold way to wrap up my 20-year career,” Bryant joked, comparing his less-than-speculator final season with Manning and Wambach’s strong exits.
“We’re not on this stage just because of talent and ability, but because of 4 a.m., two-a-days and not letting anything stand in our way,” Bryant went on. “We were never satisfied, finished — we’ll never be retired.”
“I believe there’s time for resting at the end, but for me, that time is not now,” he concluded.
The ESPYs, hosted by John Cena, are airing live from the Microsoft Theatre in L.A. on ESPN.