The deaths of basketball star Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters, Gianna — along with at least seven other people — in a helicopter crash Sunday have led to an outpouring of support and condolences.
Amid those messages are a number that express heartbreak at 13-year-old Gianna’s life being cut short. Bryant’s 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers was full of championships and controversy, from public fallouts with co-stars like Shaquille O’Neal to his 2003 rape allegation (which he refuted). But Gianna’s career had not yet begun, and her father often spoke of her on-court skill and her bright future in basketball.
Bryant got to see these skills firsthand, not just as a parent but as the coach of Gianna’s team; in a 2018 interview with ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, the former Laker said his daughter hoped to play in the WNBA when she was older, and that he believed she would do so.
Bryant proudly told Kimmel about Gianna’s reaction whenever fans approached his family and told him to have a boy to carry on his basketball legacy: “She’s like, ‘Oh, wait, I got this!’”
Bryant told Kimmel he was motivated to coach youth basketball in part to “try to teach the kids what excellence looks like” and said that as a coach, “we try to give them a foundation of the amount of work and preparation that it takes to be excellent.”
For Bryant, that amount of work was immense, and excellence required intense preparation as well as tunnel-vision focus.
Bryant had faced some criticism for this mentality, most recently for a 2019 Instagram post in which he seemed to mock the fourth-place finish of one of the youth teams he coached and spoke dismissively of one child who missed the team’s final game “for a dance recital so that should tell you where her focus was at this time.”
As SB Nation’s James Dator explained, this attitude was part of Bryant’s brand — what he called the “Mamba mentality,” after his Black Mamba nickname:
Bryant has a history of saying that single-minded determination is how you excel. Take his quote from the 2015 documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse.
“We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. There are sacrifices that come along with making that decision.”
Bryant eventually apologized for the post, and in the past made pains to state he wasn’t a dictatorial coach, like during a 2017 appearance on the Tonight Show, when he told host Jimmy Fallon of his daughters’ desire to develop their own playing styles, something he said he tried his best to encourage.
Still, he admitted he couldn’t resist giving a bit of courtside advice, and later that year, he told The Late Late Show’s James Corden of the progress Gianna’s team had made in their ability to execute complex plays, saying, “We run the triangle offense; it’s awesome.”
All that time on the court had Gianna thinking of her future. Bryant told former basketball star Reggie Miller in 2018 that Gianna was a big fan of the University of Connecticut team, an elite college women’s program, and that she was “hellbent” on playing for them as a college student.
“She watches their interviews, watches how they play and learns — not just in wins, but in tough losses — how they conduct themselves,” the former Laker told the Hartford Courant. “It’s great, as a parent, to be able to see my daughter pull inspiration from them.”
Bryant was committed to making that dream a reality, taking Gianna to games and recently sharing courtside analysis at a game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets.
Kobe and Gigi courtside breaking down the game pic.twitter.com/FxqSjVx6ew— ESPN (@espn) December 22, 2019
According to ESPN, Bryant and Gianna were on their way to one of her games in a helicopter when it crashed.
Basketball fans are mourning not just a legend Sunday, but a teen who had the potential — and ardent desire — to become a legend in her own right.