Fans around the world are still mourning the untimely deaths of basketball great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
An outpouring of love and support for Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and their three other daughters has also taken hold.
A family friend has told People that Vanessa is at a loss. “It’s an extremely difficult and devastating time for Vanessa and the whole family.”
Another friend has shared, “She can hardly keep it together. She can’t finish a sentence without crying. But she is working very hard to pull it together for the other girls. She now has to be the strong one. Of course, you can never be prepared for this.”
The friend continued, “Despite their ups and downs, [Vanessa and Kobe] were soulmates. She thought of him as her partner for life.”
The friend also noted that Vanessa “is surrounded by people who love her and love Kobe. She has a good support system. She is relying on her faith. She is not alone. But she will be grieving this for a very long time.”
Vanessa and Kobe met in November 1999, when he was 21 and she was 17. Despite being a high school senior at the time, Vanessa and Kobe were engaged six months into their relationship in May 2000, after Vanessa turned 18. At the time, Kobe’s parents didn’t approve of the relationship partly because Vanessa is Latina.
The pair’s first daughter, Natalia, was born in January 2003. This was the same year that Kobe was accused of sexual misconduct, a charge that would rock his personal and professional life for years to come. Six months after Natalia’s birth, Kobe was charged with one count of felony sexual assault.
Kobe gave a press conference where he stated, “I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery. I love my wife with all my heart. She’s my backbone.”
Vanessa also gave a statement, which read, “I know that my husband has made a mistake — the mistake of adultery. He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal.”
During some point in the coverage of the allegations, Vanessa suffered a miscarriage. Kobe said in 2015 that he worried that the stress from the allegations and potential trial caused the miscarriage. He also said he blamed himself.
In 2004, Vanessa said that a friend and fellow player of Kobe’s made inappropriate comments to her at a game, and Kobe and Karl Malone subsequently stopped being friends. Kobe’s agent told ESPN that “Kobe has told me that he feels very hurt and betrayed by what happened.”
In May 2006, Vanessa gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Gianna. Gianna was also killed in the helicopter crash with her father and seven others. She was an avid basketball fan and player, and she had hopes of playing for the University of Connecticut when she was older. She and Kobe were on their way to a basketball game when the helicopter crashed.
In 2006, Kobe and Vanessa started the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation together. The goal of the foundation is to encourage kids and their families to stay active and engaged by playing sports. The foundation also partners with LA-based organizations that aid homeless children and their families.
In December 2011, Vanessa surprised fans of the couple by filing for divorce after 10 years of marriage. She asked for joint physical and legal custody of the couple’s daughters, and Kobe replied in kind. However, in 2013 the couple announced that they were no longer getting divorced, and Vanessa shared to Instagram: “We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together. Kobe & Vanessa.”
In 2016, Vanessa and Kobe celebrated the birth of their third daughter, Bianka. Their newest daughter, Capri, joined the family in 2019. Kobe was happy to be a “girl dad,” as he put it. After Kobe retired in 2016, he turned a lot of his focus on his family and raising his daughters.
In October 2019, Kobe told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s not that I don’t want to go [to Lakers games], but I’d rather be giving [Bianka] a shower and sing Barney songs to her. I played 20 years and I missed those moments before. For me to make the trip up to Staples Center, that means I’m missing an opportunity to spend another night with my kids when I know how fast it goes. … I want to make sure the days that I’m away from them are days that I absolutely have to be. I’d rather be with them than doing anything else.”