The world was shocked by the news that Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning. In the wake of these terrible deaths, much of the conversation has been around Kobe’s professional career, which is marked with records and achievements that cannot be understated. One can argue, however, that the through line of Kobe’s lifetime, both on and off the court, was a dedication to hard work and growth.
Kobe came into the NBA at 18 years old in 1996. At the time, he was the youngest player to enter the league. Two years later, he would meet Vanessa Laine on the set of a music video. The two got married in 2001, despite Kobe’s parents’ disapproval. Kobe wouldn’t speak with his parents again until after the birth of his first daughter, Natalia, in 2003.
The biggest challenge the couple would face came later that year when Kobe faced sexual assault allegations by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Vanessa stood by his side as the situation unfolded in a tremendously public matter. Ultimately, the criminal charges were dropped and a civil suit was settled out of court.
Kobe publicly apologized for his role in the incident, reading a statement aloud in court. “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said in part.
On a recent episode of Showtime Basketball’s All the Smoke, Kobe talked about the work he put into his relationship after the scandal.
“Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed,’” he explained. He also noted that solidarity was necessary to work through the hard times.
“That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that,” he said of his and Vanessa’s relationship.
Kobe would put that same kind of effort into his role as a father. Fatherhood didn’t necessarily soften the Black Mamba, but it shed new light on his world. He encouraged his older two daughters, Natalia and Gianna, as they pursued various activities throughout their lives.
In fact, it was his desire to spend more time with his children that led to his buying a helicopter. In a conversation with Alex Rodriguez for Barstool Sports in December 2018, Kobe told his story.
“Traffic started getting really, really bad. And I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing like a school play because I was sitting in traffic,” he recalled. “I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time. So that’s when I looked into helicopters, to be able to get down and back in 15 minutes and that’s when it started.”
It was in supporting Gianna’s interest in basketball that he came back to the game after his retirement. He discussed it during his appearance on All the Smoke.
“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. ” I mean, every night. She watches everything!”
He also discussed the fun the two would have attending Laker games. “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, you know, as an athlete or a player or something like that, and you know it’s like about me, and I don’t like that. It was her, she was having such a good time.”
Gigi showed promise of following in her father’s footsteps, so much so that he’d taken to coaching her and her teammates. “A valuable lesson that I can teach them is what it means to pursue excellence and the commitment level that comes with that,” he told People.
“At the same time, making things fun and challenging, and learning new things. But they’re having a blast. They’ve gotten extremely, extremely good over the course of the last year, and are continuing to work and get better, man. It’s been fun.”
Rediscovering love for the game inspired his 2017 animated short film, Dear Basketball, for which he won an Academy Award. It was based on a poem Kobe had written around the time of his retirement from the NBA. He worked with animator Glen Keane on the short.
“Kobe wanted any kid in the world to see the film and be able to follow the steps, and see that he was able to do it,” Glen said of the project. “It’s about having a dream and filling it.”
It also featured music by John Williams, whose music had a personal meaning for Kobe. In 2017, he told the Los Angeles Times, “Hedwig’s Theme’ [from the Harry Potter movies] puts Natalia to sleep, that has put Gianna to sleep, and now it puts Bianka to sleep. I lay them on my chest and I hum it to them, and the vibrations of it just relaxes them.”
In seeing how valuable it was to instill passion and understanding of hard work in children, Kobe launched a podcast for children, The Punies. The scripted series was aimed to help children understand overcoming obstacles and quiet negative self-talk through characters who experienced the same.
We often look to the masters of a craft for tricks of the trade, advice on the mentality behind achieving their level of success. For Kobe, as a man, an NBA legend, a husband, and a father, there was no trick. It was about hard work, seeing your shortcomings and working through them, and putting family first.
The Mamba mentality may forever be remembered as achieving greatness with little room for error. In reality, the mentality, the one that Kobe was instilling in his own Mambacita, as Gigi was called, was about showing up and putting in the work, understanding you always have the capacity for growth, and knowing that none of us are truly ever done learning.