In my eyes, Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. I had the privilege to be alive for all twenty years of his NBA career, and when he retired, it truly was the end of an era. When I heard of his tragic death in a helicopter accident, basketball was the last thing that crossed my mind. I didn’t think of his five NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers or his two Olympic gold medals. I thought of his wife and daughters.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Most social media tributes to him included a brief mention of his basketball career but mainly focused on his family. Post-retirement, it was clear that his main priority was his wife, Vanessa, and their four daughters, as well as empowering girls and women in sports.
Bryant died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant and seven others. The others on the helicopter were John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mouser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan. Payton and Alyssa were Gianna’s basketball teammates and died on their way to a basketball tournament at Mamba Sports Academy. Alyssa perished with both of her parents by her side and Sarah with her mother. Mauser was an assistant coach, and Zobayan was the pilot. My thoughts, prayers, and condolences are with all who perished as well as their loved ones.
Gianna and Mamba Sports Academy
After retirement, Bryant was looking forward to spending time with his family. Basketball wasn’t on his mind until Gianna expressed interest in the sport. He said, “Before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it, but now that’s 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.”
He began coaching her middle school team, beaming with pride as he told Entertainment Tonight, "Gianna's pretty easy to coach. We haven't had any issues of dad-daughter sort of thing. She's very competitive, and she's a hard worker, so there haven't been any issues with that."
He created the facility to empower both male and female athletes of all ages.
He opened the Mamba Sports Academy in 2018. He created the facility to empower both male and female athletes of all ages, as their website states, “Mamba Sports Academy is a full-circle facility designed to update the way men, women and youth approach human performance, by creating a multi-platform environment that activates, educates and provides an opportunity for humans to unlock their full potential.”
He coached Gianna’s girl’s team at Mamba Academy, including the two other teenage girls who died in the crash. He saw the potential for Gianna to not only be a successful professional basketball player, but the perfect person to carry on his legacy. He spoke of her on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018. He said, "The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me and she'll be standing next to me and they'll be like 'You gotta have a boy, you and V gotta have a boy. You gotta have somebody to carry on the tradition and the legacy' and she's like, 'Oy, I got this. You don't need no boy for that.'"
Kobe’s relationship with Gianna is what hit closest to home for most fans. It’s important for everyone to have a strong father, and to see someone with such a positive public platform be a strong father was inspiring to many. It was highly speculated that Gianna would eventually play college basketball at the University of Connecticut and eventually make her way into the WNBA. I think I speak on behalf of most sports fans when I say that I was genuinely looking forward to watching Gianna play professionally one day with her father cheering her on in the crowd.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t just a basketball player. He was a husband, father, son, brother, friend, teammate, coach, and most of all, a great man lost too soon.
He saw the potential for Gianna to not only be a successful professional basketball player, but the perfect person to carry on his legacy.
Legacy of Empowerment
Bryant died traveling to the Mamba Cup, a tournament he hosted at Mamba Sports Academy for girl’s basketball. His advocacy for girls and women in basketball extended to the college and professional level as well.
Kobe and Gianna had befriended the University of Oregon basketball star Sabrina Ionescu, who decided to dedicate her senior season to Kobe after his untimely death. She told ESPN, "Everything I do, I do it for him. He was a really close friend. And this season is for him."
He was also a vocal supporter of the WNBA and was a firm believer that some of the top players in the league could play in the NBA. He said, "Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne. There's a lot of great players out there, so they could certainly keep up with them.”
Derek Fisher, former NBA player (one of Bryant’s teammates on the Lakers) and head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, admired Bryant’s dedication to empowering girls and women in basketball. He went on Good Morning America after the tragedy to speak of how others can honor and carry on Bryant’s legacy of empowerment.
Fisher said, "I want us to continue to push for what he was most recently striving for in terms of equity and opportunity for young girls, for girls like his daughters that are still with us. For girls like my daughters, for women to-come. He didn't just talk about those things. He lived it. Very similar to what he did on the court, he didn't talk about being great. He worked at it every day. That's what I want people to remember about his life off the court as well."
He was also a vocal supporter of the WNBA and was a firm believer that some of the top players in the league could play in the NBA.
The NBA suffered a great loss in the death of Kobe Bryant, but the WNBA lost one of their biggest supporters. Countless WNBA players paid tribute to him on social media for his kindness towards them. Many of these women grew up idolizing him, making their friendship with him stronger and the loss even more devastating.
It’s very clear that Kobe Bryant was passionate about empowering girls and women in sports. As women, the best thing we can do to carry on his legacy is to empower each other to pursue our dreams in whatever we want to do and embrace his Mamba mentality to continuously strive for improvement. Very few athletes go out of their way to empower women as he did, and the best way to honor his legacy is to continue it.