But Kimmel opted to produce Monday night’s show without a studio audience, and instead showcased clips from Bryant’s 15 different appearances on his show.
“Going forward with a comedy show didn’t feel right considering what happened yesterday,” Kimmel said in the show’s cold open. “That was a punch in the gut for many of us. 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. ”
Holding back tears at times, Kimmel made it clear that he didn’t think of Bryant as a “hero” in the same vein as firefighters, doctors and nurses, but compared the superstar to Superman.
“He was so… big and full of life — it was almost like he was a fictional character,” he said. “A real-life superhero, with a costume and everything, walking amongst us.”
Kimmel pointed out Bryant’s relationship with Los Angeles and why the city’s populace had taken the news so hard. “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. In his 20-year career, he only wore two uniforms — for the Lakers and the United States Olympic team.”
On a personal note, he said Bryant — who last appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in September — frequently checked in with Kimmel when the host’s young son had heart surgery.
“I had many conversations with Kobe off of television and they always involved his daughters,” he said. “Always. Once he retired from basketball, his life revolved around their lives. He was very proud of them. He loved being a father.”
But Kimmel added that he didn’t intend to “canonize” Bryant. “I know he wasn’t a perfect person… 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… There’s no silver lining here. It’s all bad. It’s all sad.”
On TBS’ “Conan,” host Conan O’Brien also shared clips of Bryant on his show.
“Many of the people who work here at our show have grown up in this city. Kobe was their hero,” O’Brien said. “Just listening to the coverage, so much is rightly being said about Kobe’s incredible gifts. I wanted to take a moment to highlight another aspect of Kobe’s talent: he was naturally very funny and charming. A superstar doesn’t have to be a great guest, he just was. That memory I’d like to share with you tonight.”
On “The Late Late Show,” host James Corden said “it’s still so hard to fathom. The shock of hearing the news… it didn’t feel real. It’s so unspeakably sad. All of it. Growing up in Britain, basketball is not a massive part of your life. But there are some athletes that transcend their sport. Kobe Bryant was one of those athletes.”
Corden said the last time Bryant was on his show, after his retirement from the NBA, he said he couldn’t wait to have more free time to spend with his family and to coach his daughters. “A man who had achieved so much in his life, he was so excited just to get to be a dad for awhile. Our hearts break.”
Other hosts who referenced the tragedy Monday include Ellen DeGeneres on her syndicated daytime show and “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, who called Bryant “such a life force. So creative, so strong.”
Here are clips from some of the shows paying tribute to Bryant on Monday: