Remembering Kobe & Gigi Bryant

There was no shortage of words written and spoken about Kobe Bean Bryant and his daughter Gigi in the year since their tragic deaths.  Emotions and memories flooded forth from the Los Angeles area, Kobe’s hometown of Philly, every city between and from communities around the world.

Kobe was relatable somehow.  Despite his transcendent talent, he put in work.  Despite his ignoble fall, he redeemed himself at least in part by demanding better of himself the rest of his life.

That was Kobe Bean.  He put in the work.  Not just on basketball, but on himself.  He worked to become a better version of a flawed man that grew up in the public eye.  He worked to become the best father of four daughters that he could possibly be, and the best partner for his wife Vanessa.  To be uniquely interested in each of them.  Kobe was a family man and a mentor to many by the end of his life.

That kind of journey is hard for any of us.  It takes practice and dedication.  Kobe put in the work and you could see it in how his daughters and his wife looked at him.  In how his family, friends, teammates, media members, coaches and fans spoke about him then and now.

Gigi was Kobe’s little clone.  She had his intensity and his passion for basketball and for life.  When you saw them interacting it was father daughter, but also mentor mentee and dear friends.  The whole world wanted to see Gigi grow up in basketball with the best possible instructor; her five-time NBA Champion father.  College and the pros seemed like her birthright, and a lot of us who love the game imagined Kobe in the first row – that magnetic smile glowing – watching Gigi knock down a career worth of buzzer-beaters.

That dream was taken from the Bryant family, and the basketball world’s heart broke with them.  That feeling of loss never really goes away completely, but we can sometimes choose where it takes us.

Vanessa Bryant spoke before the anniversary about how she wanted the world to spend that day remembering the lives of Kobe and Gigi instead of their deaths.  Vanessa’s will to remember their lasting impact was echoed in a beautiful letter from Gigi’s best friend Aubrey.  It probably summarizes how a lot of people close to the Bryant family felt about them.  From the letter:

“My mind constantly thinks of your beautiful daughter. Her smile and attitude push me to be better…

Her love of life is something I will also admire endlessly. She attacked each day as though it was hers to conquer. She would smile and bring the rest of us up with her…

There are times I get into a pit of despair thinking about her and what she could’ve accomplished had she had a couple more years. But recently I have been thinking about the mark she did leave on this earth. Her fights for equality in sports made the world reconsider their opinions, she along with Mr. Bryant, set the wheels in motion.”

The full letter is recommended reading.  It feels like such a fitting vision to carry forward; Aubrey’s determination to celebrate the life and passions of her best friend by embodying them herself.  The love and respect between these two young women carries a powerful lesson for us all.

Generations of Angelenos mourned then and now because they had celebrated the “Mamba Mentality” that drove Kobe and Gigi during their lives.  Mamba became a mantra in Los Angeles and it surely still is.  No doubt their memories will continue to inspire athletes, sports fans and residents of that city for generations to come.

When I think of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, I always flash back to the 2019 Atlanta Hawks game where they were famously broadcast discussing the finer points of basketball.  Vince Carter was playing one of his last games at the end of a 22-year playing career that spanned four decades.  Gigi’s favorite player Trae Young was playing in just his second season and flashing future talent.  They looked like two peas in a pod; Gigi and her #GirlDad.  That’s how I’ll always remember them, and there’s a lot of sadness in that.  But there is a lot to aspire to as well.

Kobe and Gigi can only grow through their friends, their family and us now.  Kobe’s ascension, fall, redemption, artistry and passion.  Gigi’s social consciousness, kindness, curiosity and limitless potential.  At a time when we all need a little more light, those twin stars still shine brightly if we let them.