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Behind Kobe and Gigi Bryant’s Shared Passion for Women’s Basketball

Kobe and Gianna Bryant seemed to have the ultimate father-daughter relationship—his daughter’s passion for the same game that made him a star was also an influence in his support of women’s basketball. 

Kobe and Gianna Bryant seemed to have the ultimate father-daughter relationship—his daughter’s passion for the same game that made him a star was also an influence in his support of women’s basketball. 

The NBA legend shared his love of the game with 13-year-old Gianna, who he also called “Gigi” and “Mambacita”—the latter was a play on his own nickname “Black Mamba.”

Bryant often credited Gigi for motivating his return to basketball after he retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. In an episode of Showtime Basketball’s “All the Smoke” podcast (which premiered earlier this month), Bryant described how Gigi got him back into the game. 

“Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it,” Bryant said. “But now that she’s into basketball, it’s on every night… When I took her to a Laker game, that was the first Laker game I’d been to I think since my jersey retirement. And we just had so much fun because for the first time, I was seeing the game through her eyes.”

After Bryant’s retirement, he started coaching Gigi’s AAU basketball team and took an interest in her basketball career. They had been spotted breaking down the game together—most recently in a viral video late last year—or watching his old team play. 

“[Bryant is] one of the greatest players to play this game you know,” Lakers player LeBron James said about Bryant’s appearance at a Laker game last November. “He’s got one of the greatest female basketball players that’s about to come up sitting next to him—Gigi—so I’m just trying to put on a show for them.”

Bryant said Gigi was “hell bent” on wanting to play at the University of Connecticut, which has the country's most successful women’s basketball program with 11 national championship wins since 1982.  She dreamed of one day playing in the WNBA.

As a father of four daughters with his wife Vanessa, Kobe often spoke about how Gianna would carry on his legacy. 

“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’ll be like, ‘hey, you gotta have a boy, you and Vi gotta have a boy, man, somebody to carry on the tradition, the legacy.’ [Gigi’s] like, ‘Oy, I got this. You don’t need no boy for that. I got this.’ I’m like, that’s right, you got this,” Bryant said of Gigi on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018. 

Athletes and leaders in the sports world praised Bryant’s support for women’s basketball throughout the years. He became more involved in youth basketball, launching MAMBA Sports Academy in 2016, which is a training facility for all youth sports. 

He also championed collegiate women’s basketball—specifically taking an interest in the University of Oregon women’s basketball team and their star player, Sabrina Ionescu. Gigi and Kobe would attend games, and Kobe eventually became a close friend of Ionescu’s. 

Just last week, Bryant showed his support of women playing professional basketball when he told CNN he felt there were players in the WNBA who had the skill to play in the NBA. 

“Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne—there's a lot of great players out there so they could certainly keep up with [NBA players]," Bryant said.

Other women in the sports world have praised Bryant’s support for the WNBA and rising women athletes.

“Billie Jean King has always talked about the dads being the greatest feminists of all, because once they have daughters, and we hope it would be before they had daughters, but it’s okay if it takes having a daughter, some of you in the arena wouldn’t necessarily know this,” said USA Today Sports columnist Christine Brennan during a panel in May 2019. “Well, now a dad is thrilled to have a girl because, of course, get ready for everything the boys had—t-ball, and soccer, and obviously hockey, and volleyball, etc. It’s still a man’s world, so to have a male’s voice chime in on any of these topics, you’re getting battered, because you are saying something that is so true and so honest. If guys chime in, it’s kind of cool.”

During the same panel, sports journalist Jemele Hill also spoke about Bryant’s dedication to his daughter’s basketball rise. 

“[This reminds] me of Kobe Bryant, and he’s a huge supporter of the WNBA, and his daughter is playing basketball—she looks quite good,” said Hill. “And he said that he just laughs when other guys come up to him and say, ‘Man, don’t you want a boy to be just like you.’ And he told them, ‘I think my daughter has it just fine.’ He’s just okay with that. So, I think it’s cool that he’s supportive of the league, and also that he might have the next great one, but it just didn’t come in the package they expected.”

UConn alum and former WNBA player-turned basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo tweeted about Bryant’s commitment to women’s basketball following his death.

Kobe and Gianna were mid-flight to a game on January 26 when their helicopter crashed near Calabasas, CA. All 9 passengers were killed, and their names were released on Monday.