Like her father, the 13-year-old was a prodigiously talented basketball player. With his help as her personal coach, Gianna hoped to become a professional. Bryant was confident Gianna would do so, often speaking of his wish for her to continue his legacy, albeit in the women’s game. Tragically, neither would live to see that aspiration come to fruition.
Bryant and Gianna were reported to be heading to a basketball game on Sunday when their helicopter crashed in the city of Calabasas, west of Los Angeles. There were no survivors. The pair was expected to take part in a basketball tournament for young players at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, US media report. Attending basketball games together was typical of their relationship, which was said to be close.
The second of Bryant’s four daughters, Gianna dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps. In an interview, Bryant had said his daughter was determined to play for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. The team shared an image of the two on its Twitter page.
Kobe and Gianna meant a lot to our program. Our thoughts are with the Bryant family.
Mamba Mentality will live on forever, but they are deeply missed. 💙 pic.twitter.com/4Ib96yFxgg
— UConn Women’s Hoops (@UConnWBB) January 26, 2020
Bryant said that, following his retirement from basketball in 2016, he switched off from the sport. His daughter, however, rekindled his passion for the game. “It wasn’t me sitting there, you know as an athlete or a player or something like that, and you know it’s like about me, and I don’t like that. It was her – she was having such a good time,” Bryant told the BET network in a recent interview.
In retirement, Bryant spent most of his time with his family – his wife, Vanessa, and four daughters – Gianna, Natalia, Bianka and Capri. But Gianna was said to have shared a particularly special bond with her father. Bryant’s affection for his daughter, also known as Gigi, is obvious from his social media profiles. One video posted to his Instagram shows him playing “one-on-one with my baby Gigi”.
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The former LA Lakers star, 41, had been coaching Gianna’s middle school team since his retirement. A clip which appears to show Bryant imparting advice about basketball went viral a few weeks ago. Pictures show Bryant coaching Gianna’s basketball team on Saturday at the Mamba Sports Academy – a day before the crash. “He had a clipboard, he was drawing up plays and talking to [the players],” a person who was there told the New York Post. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Bryant took “special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna”.
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Bryant clearly had faith in his daughter’s ability. Last year, he told LA Times columnist Arash Markazi that his family name was in good hands with Gianna. Pointing to Gianna, Bryant described his daughter as “something else”. Speaking to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel in 2018, Bryant said fans would often urge him to have a son to continue his legacy.
“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. “She’s like, ‘I got this’,” Bryant said. “I’m like, ‘that’s right’. Yes, you do, you got this.”
Not only did Bryant support his daughter, he championed the development of women’s basketball more broadly. He tried to draw attention to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) league which, since its founding in 1996, has steadily increased in popularity. “The WNBA is a beautiful game to watch,” Bryant told the LA Times last year. At present, 12 teams compete in the league, which runs from May to September.
But like in many other professional sports, women are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. The average pay for male NBA players this season is around $7.5m (£5.7m), according to data from Basketball Reference. In contrast, the average pay for female WNBA players is around $116,000, reports say. The WNBA has attempted to address the pay disparity, recently agreeing major pay rises with the union that represents players.