Kobe Bryant died a sudden and shocking death this weekend, which shook the whole world. Nicknamed “Black Mamba,” the legendary basketball player was loved by many and was a source of inspiration to fans of the sport and others alike.
The helicopter that crashed was unfortunately also carrying his daughter, Gianna Bryant, whose life was also lost in the tragic accident. The crash also took the lives of seven other passengers, including the pilot. Among those, was baseball coach, John Altobelli with his wife and daughter Alyssa.
Gianna and Alyssa were good friends and played basketball together. They were all on their way to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif, where Bryant coached basketball to kids.
Kobe’s relationship with Gianna renders their tragic and untimely death especially poignant. We were all aware of how much he loved her and how they bonded over basketball.
How Gianna Bryant was going to be Kobe’s legacy
Basketball was a passion and a talent Kobe Bryant had passed on to Gianna though Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016. After a legendary career that spanned two decades, he stayed on the court, as a coach to his daughters.
Gianna was the second oldest of Kobe’s children and like her father, she shared a the same passion for the sport. While Kobe may have had a difficult, even troubled relationship with his parents, it’s clear that he did not want to repeat the same mistakes in his approach to fatherhood. On social media, the basketball legend shared many moments of his daughter’s basketball journey, always with pride.
Additionally, Bryant had brought her to basketball games, as the internet famous video below shows, and used them as learning moments.
But for Kobe, his daughter’s passion for basketball was even more symbolic. He and his wife Vanessa Bryant, had 4 daughters before Gianna’s death and no son but that did not stop him from seeing the latter as his basketball heiress.
The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans would come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me, and they’ll be like, ‘You’ve gotta have a boy, you and V gotta have a boy. You gotta have somebody to carry on your tradition, the legacy.Kobe Bryant on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Rather than accepting the circumstances, or wishing he had had a boy instead, Kobe proudly embraced Gianna as the leader of his legacy. In doing so, he also learned to see basketball differently and work towards a more inclusive culture.
He went from player to spectator…
Kobe retired in 2016, which afforded him a lot of time to focus on his family and other post-retirement projects. Being able to be present for his daughters and to coach them also changed his perception on basketball.
“You know what’s funny,” Bryant said on the “All the Smoke” podcast to Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on Jan. 9. “Before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it, but now that’s she’s into basketball, we watch every night.”
Gianna’s love for the sport enabled her father to see it from another perspective, to be able to enjoy it outside the context that he had been used to during the length of his career.
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, and it’s about me, and I don’t like that,” he finished. “It was her, she was having such a good time.”
But Bryant was being more than a devoted dad in those moments. Seeing his daughter as his legacy, the future of a family basketball dynasty, he wanted to nurture that talent so she could carry on what he started.
…and then, went from spectator to coach
As part of his projects, he decided to take the time to coach his daughter’s basketball team. The experience represented more than just an opportunity to bond with his daughter.
We’ve been working together for a year and a half and they’ve improved tremendously in that time. I’ve got a group of great parents, a group of really, really intelligent, hardworking girls, and — they’re all seventh graders, they’re all 12 years old — but they’ve been playing so well.Kobe Bryant to Entertainment Tonight
He continued, highlighting what it was like to coach not only the middle school team but his daughter as well. “Gianna’s pretty easy to coach. We haven’t had any issues of dad-daughter sort of thing,” he said. Much like her father, she was “very competitive” and “a hard worker.”
It is no wonder that Gianna had inherited her father’s talent, which made it easier for him to coach her. However, his daughter’s love for the sport was also eye-opening and made him realize the importance of being inclusive when it comes to women in the world of basketball.
It was not specifically his daughter he saw as the future of basketball, but women in general. Kobe’s legacy is vast but part of it is rooted in his advocacy for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
What Kobe meant for women in basketball
In an interview with CNN, Kobe expressed his opinions on the division between men and women in the world of the NBA.
I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now honestly. There’s a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it.
Bryant went on to name three WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) stars who he believes could make the jump into the men’s league. “Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne. There’s a lot of great players out there so they could certainly keep up with them,” he said.
While there are still a lot of steps before this could even become a possibility, the voice and endorsement of a legend like Kobe has been invaluable to female basketball players. There is a general tendency to disregard or undermine female athletes, and always compare them to the more mainstream, male counterparts of their sports.
By breaching that space between the two leagues, Kobe made sure that female basketball players were heard and given their due recognition.
It is no wonder that female basketball players were particularly shocked by the recent events. The basketball coach of the WNBA team, Oregon Ducks, Sabrina Ionescu “was particularly struck by the news.” As reported by The Oregonian, “Bryant had become a mentor to her and she became especially close to the family.” Kobe’s daughter, Gianna, dreamt of playing for her team one day.
During Kobe and Gianna’s memorial on February 24th 2020, Diana Taurasi, nicknamed “White Mamba” by no other than the Black Mamba himself, gave a touching speech recalling his impact on her life.
“The last time I saw Gigi, the Mambas were in Phoenix for a big AAU tournament,” Taurasi said. “Kobe Bryant brought them to the locker room to watch practice.”
I always remember the look on Gigi’s face. It was a look of excitement. A look at belonging. A look of fierce determination.Diana Taurasi
While nothing can ever bring back the lives that were lost in the accident, it is possible for us not to forget the legacy that Kobe and Gianna had been working on for female athletes. They will always be remembered for their close relationship, but also their efforts to promote equality in sports.
Like Diana Taurasi and all the female basketball players who have been inspired by Kobe and Gianna, we too can carry on their legacy by never forgetting to uplift the daughters, mothers, sisters and women around us.
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