Today, Mambacita would have been 14 years old.
Gianna Bryant, though, never made it. She, along with her father, Kobe Bryant and seven others, was killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, at the end of January. The two were, fittingly, traveling to a basketball tournament. Gianna Bryant was a star player for her dad’s training school, Mamba Academy.
Gigi, as she became known, was frequently seen with her dad, in his arms as a baby, on his lap during NBA Finals press conferences as a toddler and, later, sitting alongside him at WNBA and college games. The pair bonded, deeply, over basketball and a shared competitive desire to be the best they could.
She was developing into a star in her own right.
“I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gigi said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS in 2019, when she and her dad attended the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA opener. “More information, more inspiration.”
Gigi was remembered all over social media on Friday, including from Shareef O’Neal, the LSU player, and son of Bryant’s Hall of Fame teammate, Shaquille O’Neal.
Vanessa Bryant Posted Video of Kobe Talking About Gianna
Bryant, who had four daughters, spoke frequently about his connection with Gigi over sports. In a video posted by his wife, Vanessa Bryant, in March, Bryant talked about the way his daughter’s outlook had developed as she got older and more competitive.
“She started out playing soccer, which is one of my favorite sports as well,” “But then when she asked about learning the game of basketball, then I started teaching her piece by piece and she started enjoying it, and loved it and now she plays everyday. It’s been a joy to watch her grow and to be there everyday for that process.
“Her temperament is a lot like mine. She’s extremely competitive, very fiery and backs down from no challenge. She has a mixture — she’s a good mix of me and a good mix of her mama, so that makes her even more competitive than I am.”
‘Oye, I got This!’
In an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show, Bryant explained his approach to coaching Gigi and her teammates.
“What we try to do is we try to teach the kids what excellence looks like,” Bryant said. “It’s not that—some of them may want to play in the WNBA, some of them may not. But we try to give them a foundation for the amount of work and preparation that it takes to be excellent. We’re here playing basketball but we are going to focus on the details, we are going to learn the basics, we are going to learn the fundamentals. We’re going to do those things over and over. Hopefully it is something they will be able to apply in other area of their lives.”
His daughter, though, was most certainly one who wanted to be in the WNBA. And she frequently chafed when Bryant, who will be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, would be told that he and his wife needed to have a son in order to carry on the basketball legacy.
“This kid man, I am telling you,” Bryant 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 will be like, ‘You gotta have a boy, you and [Vanessa] gotta have a boy, man, to have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy.’ And [Gigi] is like, ‘Oye, I got this! I got this! That’s right. Yes, you do. You got this.”