Remembering the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant

Rebekah Waldron, North Campus Editor

January saw the bleak loss of one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers icon and five-time NBA champion, died in a helicopter crash at age 41. His daughter Gianna, 13, was also on board the fatal crash. There were no survivors.

The pair, along with 7 others, were headed out to a youth basketball tournament when their helicopter plummeted into a fog-covered hillside near Calabasas, California. The cause of the helicopter crash is still under investigation.

Kobe came by his skills honestly. His father, Joe “JellyBean” Bryant played eight seasons in the NBA, as well as eight more in Italy, where young Kobe started out with his schooling. When the family moved back to the states, Kobe took up the start of his career. Bryant played basketball at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where he received several national Player of the Year awards and broke the southeastern Pennsylvania scoring record with 2,883 points.

Opting to forego college, Bryant determined himself to be NBA draft eligible and signed on as the thirteenth pick of the draft for the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 just after graduating high school. He was shortly then traded to the Lakers and set a record as the youngest NBA player in the 1996-97 season. He climbed ranks and became a household name quickly, and was drafted for the All-Star game in his second season. This made Bryant the youngest All-Star in history.

Young Bryant struggled sharing the spotlight. He and fellow Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal had a rocky relationship that found unity under the direction of Phil Jackson, who took over as the Lakers coach in 1999. Bryant, a shooting guard, and O’Neal, a center, meshed into an unstoppable force. By the time Bryant was 23, the Lakers had won three consecutive NBA championships.

At the top of his game, and the highlight of his life, Kobe married a woman named Vanessa Laine Bryant in 2001. The pair met at a photoshoot while Vanessa was 17 and Kobe was 20. As soon as she turned 18, he proposed.

After winning their third title in 2002, Bryant and the Lakers began to struggle. In the 2003 playoffs, the Lakers were defeated in the second round. Come 2004, they made headway well into the season, seemingly back on their feet, but were upset by the Detroit Pistons. O’Neal was soon traded, and Bryant became the sole leader of the team.

Bryant led the team through the following seasons from 2005 to 2010, getting back to being an unstoppable force in the NBA world. In 2008 he was named the league’s MVP for the first time in his career. Bryant won his fourth NBA title in 2009, and he was named the finals MVP after averaging a stellar 32.4 points per game in the series. Leading the Lakers to their third straight conference championship in 2010, he was once more named NBA finals MVP after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series.

Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon in April 2013, causing him to miss the rest of the season. The team seemed lackluster, and were the eighth and final seed for playoffs, which they were swept for. He returned to the court in December 2013 but only played six games before fracturing his kneecap and missing the remainder of that season as well.

Refusing to be knocked down without getting back up, Bryant returned again in the 14-15 season, where he played until tearing his rotator cuff in 2015. Not seeming to catch a break, He played almost all of the following season but again struggled, with a career-low .358 shooting percentage while averaging only a mere 17.6 points per game. He retired following the last regular-season game of the 2015-16 season.

During the legendary years in his career, Bryant and his wife had four daughters together. Among them was Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, born on May 1, 2006. She was planning to follow her famous father’s footsteps in the world of basketball, hoping to one day play for Geno Auriemma at UConn and later in the WNBA, according to Sports Illustrated. Following his retirement, Kobe became the coach of Gianna’s youth basketball team.

“She was a little kid looking up at our players,” Auriemma told Sports Illustrated. “She was so excited. Imagine the absurdity of that. Your father is Kobe Bryant and the most excited you’ve been in a long time is being around college women’s basketball players. But that’s what it meant to her, what she aspired to be.”

Following the pair’s sudden and tragic death, highlight clips of Gianna began circulating the internet. These clips showed an advanced player for such a young age. “I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gianna said in an interview in 2019, when she and her dad attended the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA opener. “More information, more inspiration.”