This article was originally published in January 2020 following the deaths of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and seven others in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif.
Ahead of Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game in 2016, Nike released an ad featuring several of its athletes describing the man known for his “Mamba Mentality.” Each participant was asked to choose one word to summarize Bryant.
Selfish. Obsessive. Tough. Winner. Fearless. Competitive. Relentless. A—hole.
Bryant didn’t just want to win. He wanted his opponents to lose, to leave the court with nothing. Any player standing across from him was a speed bump on the road to victory. That intensity pushed Bryant to capture five championships and score thousands of points.
But in retirement, Bryant found a different kind of passion. He discovered a new sense of purpose in raising his four daughters — especially Gianna, who shared Bryant’s renowned zest for the finer points of basketball.
Tragically, that relationship ended far too soon. Kobe, 41, and Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, 13, were among nine killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash. The passengers on board were traveling to a basketball tournament at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
That Kobe and Gianna were heading to the hardwood shouldn’t surprise anyone. They quickly developed a bond through basketball and were seen together at arenas around the country watching the best the sport had to offer, whether it was a men’s or women’s game. On a recent podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Kobe admitted he had largely left hoops behind before Gianna provided an unexpected spark.
“You know what’s funny, so before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it,” Bryant said. “But now that she’s into basketball, it’s on every night … We just had so much fun [attending a Lakers game] because for the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes. 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.”
Simply put, Gianna turned Kobe into a dorky sports dad and club team coach — and damn was it endearing.
Kobe’s Instagram page essentially became a family photo album complete with mushy captions like “Happy 13th birthday my Gigi! I love you beyond measure baby” and hashtags like “#daddysgirl” and “#mambacita.” (Cue a million daughters telling their fathers to stop embarrassing them. Now imagine if dad had 17 million followers.)
You’re telling me this is the same guy who didn’t even let Smush Parker talk to him?
But that’s what Gianna did for Kobe. She softened that famous steely stare and allowed him to view basketball through a different prism.
Kobe couldn’t contain the pure joy of fatherhood when asked about Gianna carrying on his legacy. He didn’t need a son. She can handle it.
One of my favourite interviews, where he talks about not needing sons to carry on his legacy, as his daughters have it covered.
It’s not often that sports players become as big as their own sport but he was one of the few. Legend of a player. RIP Kobe 🌹 pic.twitter.com/A93DNryqeJ
— Marva (@MarvaMSK) January 26, 2020
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce may have explained the transition best when he addressed Kobe’s death before the Hawks-Wizards game on Sunday.
“There’s nothing more than the respect I have for him as a father,” Pierce said. “Every image you see of him post-retirement is with his daughters, with his family. Everything you see online, on Twitter is about positivity. He’s encouraging others, retweeting positive comments to others.
“And I think it’s been the biggest transformation of a competitor to a human being that I’ve ever seen.”
Had Nike released an updated 2020 version of its ad, the video surely would have included another phrase: Proud father. Children instantly change the lives of their parents and bring out wonderful sides to them that didn’t previously exist. Gianna was no exception.
She showed Kobe at his most human. When the two were together, all of the accolades from a 20-year career fell to the side.
In those moments, it was a dad and his daughter.
That Kobe and Gianna Bryant won’t be able to continue their journey is nothing less than a tragedy. That Vanessa, a wife and mother, and Natalia, Bianka and Capri, daughters and sisters, won’t be able to share in that journey with them only makes this more heartbreaking.