The former Los Angeles Lakers player rediscovered the joy and thrill of the game through Gianna's eyes as he taught her everything he knew.
The legendary Kobe Bryant's love for basketball began at the young age of 3. Drafted straight out of Lower Merion High School near Philadelphia in 1996 as an 18-year-old, he became the youngest player in NBA history at the time. Two decades, five NBA championship wins, and two Olympic gold medals later, when Bryant retired in April 2016, it wasn't because he'd fallen out of love with the sport. Rather, he walked away from the court because he knew he'd given it his all. "A love so deep I gave you my all — From my mind & body, To my spirit & soul," he wrote in his retirement poem 'Dear Basketball.'
However, basketball wasn't done with him. The sport drew him back onto the hardwood court with a ball in his hand; this time as a coach and mentor to his second-born daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, aka Gigi. The 13-year-old who died alongside Bryant in the tragic helicopter crash on Sunday shared a love for the sport that made her father the legend he was. Through Gigi's eyes, the former Los Angeles Lakers player rediscovered the joy and thrill of the game as he taught her everything he knew.
Speaking to Jimmy Kimmel during a 2018 appearance on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Bryant gushed about how Gianna would carry on his legacy. "This kid, man. The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans come up to me, and she'll be standing next to me and they’ll be like: 'You've got to have a boy. You and [wife Vanessa] have got to have a boy, someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy.' And she’s like, 'Oh, I got this.' I'm like that's right. Yes, you do, you got this," the proud father said.
According to The Washington Post, Gianna hoped to one day play for the University of Connecticut. Paving the way for his daughter's dreams, Bryant turned his attention to the Women's National Basketball Association. He hosted both NBA and WNBA players at his sports academy in Thousand Oaks and spent the better part of the past two years coaching Gianna's AAU team. Bryant's support and dedication to the WNBA were praised by many in their tributes following his death, including former WNBA and U-Conn. star Rebecca Lobo.
No @NBA player supported the @WNBA or women’s college basketball more than Kobe. He attended games, watched on TV, coached the next generation. We pray for his family, Lobo tweeted. Mourning the basketball legend's death, Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said, He was the one everyone looked up to, especially this generation of players. To see the way he was coming out of retirement in playing to being just a leader of people, WNBA, AAU programs, children’s books — we lost a leader.
Speaking to former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the Showtime Basketball podcast All the Smoke earlier this month, Bryant revealed that it was Gianna's passion for basketball that made him a fixture at Lakers games again. "Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now that she’s into basketball, we watch every night. We just had so much fun because it was the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes. It wasn’t me sitting there as an athlete or a player or something like that. … It was her — she was having such a good time," he said.
I can’t stop crying...cherish every moment. Please. pic.twitter.com/dX8VLXvzse— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) January 26, 2020