Jan. 26, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the untimely deaths of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
The NBA legend and doting father of four died with Gianna in a helicopter crash while reportedly on their way to the Mamba Academy near Thousand Oaks, California, for basketball practice. There were nine people on the helicopter — including Kobe, Gianna, the pilot and six other passengers — and no survivors.
Gianna — Kobe’s second-oldest daughter, whom he affectionately called GiGi — was a student at Sierra Canyon School in Los Angeles, California, and Kobe often proudly talked about Gianna having a similar passion for basketball. Gianna definitely appeared poised to carry on her father’s basketball legacy and he couldn’t have been prouder of her progress.
The teen was nicknamed “Mambacita” after Kobe’s “Black Mamba” moniker and clearly, Kobe already had big plans for Gianna, who had dreams of making it to the WNBA. ET learned that less than a month before the two tragically died, Kobe filed a “Mambacita” trademark for Gianna.
Like with all of his children, Kobe often posted about Gianna on social media, happily showing off her basketball games, and other milestones.
An adorable video of father and daughter talking basketball at an NBA game became one of the internet’s favorite memes.
In December 2018, Kobe shared with ET that he was actually coaching Gianna’s middle school basketball team.
“It’s been fun!” he told ET at the time. “We’ve been working together for a year and a half and they’ve improved tremendously in that time. I’ve got a group of great parents, a group of really, really intelligent, hardworking girls, and — they’re all seventh graders, they’re all 12 years old — but they’ve been playing so well!”
Kobe being Kobe, he also said he made sure to continuously challenge them.
“I play ’em up now,” he said. “They’ve been playing eighth and ninth grade, they’ve been winning tournaments. But the most important thing is they keep improving, keep getting better and they love doing it. They love being around each other.”
As for Gianna, he noted that she was “pretty easy to coach.”
“We haven’t had any issues of dad-daughter sort of thing,” he said. “She’s very competitive and she’s a hard worker, so there haven’t been any issues with that.”
Last year, the retired Lakers player appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and shared a now heartbreaking story about her reaction to fans telling him that he needs a son to carry on his legacy.
“The best thing that happens is when I go out and fans will come up to me and say, ‘You gotta have a boy, you and V [Vanessa Bryant]…you gotta have somebody to carry on your tradition and legacy, and she’s like, ‘I got this. No boy for that, I got this.'”
“That’s right,” Kobe added of his daughter. “Yes you do, you got this!”
In another interview, Kobe gushed over Gianna’s competitiveness and perseverance.
“She’s really competitive,” he explained. “They both are, it’s just that [my older daughter] Natalia smiles a lot more when she does it, [whereas] Gianna’s like Serena [Williams] and myself. Ain’t no smiling going on, I’m here to handle some business.”
Kobe credited Gianna with rekindling his passion for basketball after he retired in 2016.
“You know what’s funny, before Gigi got into basketball I hardly watched it, but now that’s she’s into basketball, we watch every night,” he said during an interview with All the Smoke podcast earlier this month.
Specifically, he commented on the viral video of him breaking down the game for Gianna courtside.
“We just had so much fun because it was the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes,” he explained. “It wasn’t me sitting there as an athlete or a player or something like that, and it’s about me, and I don’t like that. It was her, she was having such a good time.”
After Kobe’s shocking death, his friend, fellow sports icon Derek Jeter, noted that Kobe never looked happier than when he was snapped watching the Los Angeles Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks with Gianna at the Staples Center just last month.
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“I’ve seen the guy go for 81,” Jeter wrote in an essay for The Players’ Tribune. “I’ve seen him hit all kinds of buzzer beaters. I’ve seen him win gold medals and championship rings. But I’ve still never seen him look as happy, in those big moments on the court, as he looked the other day off of it: with an arm around Gigi, sitting courtside, and just….. talking. Yeah, sure, talking hoops — but you got the feeling in those moments that he would have been content talking about anything.”
One of Kobe’s last Instagram posts was of Gianna making an impressive shot during a game.
“Gigi getting better every day #teammamba #mambacita #fade,” he wrote.
Kobe is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and their three other daughters — Natalia, 18, Bianka, 4, and Capri, 1.