Gianna 'Gigi' Bryant reshaped her father's basketball worldview and carried her own hoop dreams

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant died on Sunday morning when the helicopter carrying nine people crashed into a hillside in Southern California. The difficult questions of how and why will be investigated by authorities over the coming days and weeks, but it's hard to ever get a truly satisfactory answer when something this tragic happens. 

Which is why it's often easier in these circumstances to focus on celebrating the lives of those who died -- including the life of Kobe's daughter Gianna Bryant. 

Gianna, also known as "Gigi" to those close to the Bryant family, was just 13 years old. At the time of the crash, she was on her way to do what she loved: play basketball. It's no secret where she developed that passion, and even at her young age, she was already showing the promise of carrying on her father's legacy. Not just with her own budding skills, but the way she copied his mannerisms. 

The bond between father and daughter was obvious even from what little we knew about her personal life. From the NBA to WNBA to NCAA women's basketball, just about every time Kobe was sitting courtside at a game, Gianna was right there next to him. And as she developed her skills and dreamed of a future in which she played for UConn and then in the WNBA, Gianna's love for the game brought Kobe back to it in a roundabout way. He coached her team at the Mamba Academy, and found joy in her passion for his former profession. 

"Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it (in retirement)," Kobe told Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on Showtime's All The Smoke podcast. "But now that she's into basketball, we watch every night... We just had so much fun because it was the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes. It wasn't me sitting there as an athlete or a player or something like that. … It was her -- she was having such a good time."

It was fitting, then, that one of the final times we saw the two together was a clip of them courtside at a Nets-Hawks game. The two were there to watch Trae Young, Gianna's favorite player, and the TV cameras just happened to catch Kobe breaking down something to a smiling Gianna. It became a meme in the way that viral videos do these days but has now taken on a new life as a beautiful encapsulation of their relationship. 

Gianna didn't just want to grow up to be a basketball player in the way so many kids across the world do. Even at just 13, she already had grand plans to carry on her family's 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," Kobe told Jimmy Kimmel back in 2018. "And they'll be like, 'Man, you gotta have a boy. You and V gotta have a boy, man, have somebody carry on your tradition, the legacy.' And she's like, 'Oy, I got this. You don't need no boy for that. I got this." And I'm like, 'That's right. Yes, you do. You got this.'"

And therein lies the saddest part of all of this. Gigi had this. Wherever her basketball journey took her, she was going to carry on the Bryant legacy, and it was going to be a joy to watch her and Kobe go through the process together. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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