The last time I sat down with Kobe Bryant was at his office in Costa Mesa before the season opener between the Lakers and Clippers in October. He laughed when I asked him if he would be at the game. I knew he wouldn’t be there. He had a more important game to attend that night. He was going to be at a high school gym 40 miles away to watch his 16-year-old daughter, Natalia, play volleyball.
He rarely went to Lakers games after retiring in 2016. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the Lakers. He loved his family more and loved spending time with his wife, Vanessa, and their daughters, Natalia, Gianna, 13, Bianka, 3, and Capri, who was born last June. “I have a life and I have my routine at home,” Bryant said in October. “It’s not that I don’t want to go [to Lakers games], but I’d rather be giving B.B. a shower and sing Barney songs to her.
I played 20 years and I missed those moments before. “For me to make the trip up to Staples Center, that means I’m missing an opportunity to spend another night with my kids when I know how fast it goes. … I want to make sure the days that I’m away from them are days that I absolutely have to be. I’d rather be with them than doing anything else.”
Bryant had a special relationship with Gianna. She was his shadow at the end of his career and in retirement. She routinely traveled to work with him and he loved coaching her and her basketball teammates at the Mamba Sports Academy, a training center he opened in Thousand Oaks. He and Gianna were headed there for a game Sunday when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, killing everyone on board.
The only magazine in the lobby of Bryant’s office is the SLAM in which he appeared on the cover with Gianna and her teammates in their black and white Mamba uniforms. “It’s a trip to see her move and some of the expressions she makes,” Bryant said of Gianna. “It’s a trip how genetics work.” When I saw Bryant and Gianna at the Sparks’ season opener in Las Vegas last May,
he said he thought it was funny when fans asked him when he would have a son to carry on the basketball legacy. He said the family name was already in good hands. “This one,” Bryant said, pointing to Gianna. “She’s something else.” It wasn’t a surprise that Bryant was flying to a game with Gianna on Sunday. They were inseparable. He loved taking her to basketball games and talking to her about different plays, tendencies and adjustments.
“What I love about Gigi is her curiosity about the game,” Bryant said. “She’s very curious. Even in a heated situation in a game where it’s going back and forth, she can detach herself and come to me and ask a very specific question, which is not common. She’ll come over and say, ‘OK, on this particular trap when I’m trying to close the gap but she’s getting on the outside, do I need to change my angle?’ It’s a very specific question. That’s pretty damn cool.”
Bryant said Gianna was “hell-bent” on going to Connecticut to play for coach Geno Auriemma. He actually took her to some games where she met the Huskies and Auriemma in the locker room. In retirement, Bryant’s focus when it came to basketball was on Gianna. He didn’t worry how he would be remembered, he just wanted to be there for his daughter and watch her play the game they loved. “My job is to create the memories and moments,” he said in discussing his legacy. “It’s someone else’s job to create the rest.”