Last month, retired Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant took his daughter Gianna to a Hawks-Nets game so she could watch her favorite NBA player, Hawks guard Trae Young.
As the two were sitting courtside at the Barclays Center in New York, a camera caught Bryant breaking down the previous play to Gianna.
Before Bryant could finish what he was saying, Gianna, nicknamed ‘‘Gigi,’’ interjected and finished the sentence for him. Bryant, clearly a proud father, smiled and nodded in agreement.
Bryant talked often about how Gigi, 13, was going to be the one to carry on his basketball legacy. But her life was cut short Sunday when she was one of nine victims, including Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on their way to a basketball tournament.
The news rocked the basketball world. The NBA lost a legend. The WNBA lost an advocate in Bryant and perhaps a future member of its league in Gigi.
Gigi was a strong reflection of her father on and off the court. She immersed herself in film and started mimicking her father’s moves, including his signature fadeaway jumper, in games. Her love for the game was undeniable and her drive to succeed unstoppable.
Bryant recognized this and did what he could to support her.
Gigi planned to play at powerhouse UConn in a few years. It’s the place her favorite WNBA player, Sky forward Gabby Williams — who developed a close relationship with the Bryants through the years — went before joining the WNBA.
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this is one of the most genuine people on the planet. thank you for what you’ve done for this game we love. for your kindness humility and words. i wish i could tell you how much every conversation meant to me, because you have no idea how much it did for my belief. and gigi... god my heart is fkn broken. my memories of you will always be of your smile and how genuinely you loved to be a student of this game. you never expected any handouts and were ready to fight for everything you wanted.... sending all my love and prayers to the bryant family
‘‘From what I saw, she was going to be heaps better than me,’’ Williams told the Associated Press on Monday.
What made Gigi so special?
‘‘She had the right mentality, so confident, relentless, so mean and aggressive,’’ said Williams, who reportedly used to FaceTime the Bryants before games and even gave Gigi her Sky uniform. ‘‘And then [she would] walk off the court with the biggest, sweetest smile on her face. But my favorite part about her was just seeing how much she loved the game and loved to learn.’’
Gigi appeared destined to create her own basketball legacy. She wasn’t discouraged by the immense pressure of living up to her father.
‘‘It’s intimidating to have to follow in those footsteps,’’ Williams said. ‘‘But she really embraced it.’’
That’s the Mambacita way.