Gianna Bryant might have been only 13 years old and just getting started on her basketball journey, but she left a lasting impact upon leaving the world so soon.
Gianna and her father, Kobe Bryant, died Sunday in a southern California helicopter crash that killed nine people. Kobe, the 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion while starring for the Lakers for 20 years from 1996-2016, was reportedly heading to the Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand oaks with his daughter and others when the flight crashed in Calabasas. He was 41.
Among nine lives lost from the tragedy, Kobe and Gianna had so much more left to give. Monday at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, players from the U.S. National Team remembered Kobe and Gianna after an exhibition against UConn.
"Kobe meant a lot -- I think especially in this game," said Breanna Stewart, who starred for UConn from 2012-16 and was playing in her first game back after an April 14, 2019, torn Achilles kept her out the past nine months. "He was one of the first people that reached out to me when I ruptured my Achilles. So to have him pass the day before my first game back -- playing for Team USA, at UConn (meant a lot).
"Obviously, he's an avid supporter of UConn, because of his daughter GiGi -- but he was someone that I just tried to emulate. The way he prepares himself, his mindset, the way that he works and continuing to make his legacy grow and make sure that the kids behind me, they know who Kobe is."
Kobe and Gianna attended UConn games when possible, leaving a lasting impression on Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma, who recalled the first time the two came to campus. Gianna was an avid UConn fan with budding interest in college basketball as she approached high school and developed her game along the way. Katie Lou Samuelson, who starred for UConn from 2015-19, was one of the Huskies to have interacted with Kobe and Gianna on those visits.
"Slowly, each time she got more and more outgoing," Samuelson said. "He always used to talk about -- on the court, she was a completely different person. She was a monster. She was mean. She had an attitude, just like he did. And she was just a beautiful soul and beautiful person that I was lucky enough to meet and get to know."
Kobe's presence as a family man, especially after he retired from his playing career, was gradually on full display -- and the love went beyond just Gianna. Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife/her mother Vanessa, 37, and his daughters/her sisters -- 17-year-old Natalia, 3-year-old Bianka and 7-month-old Capri. Those are the impressions that players like Diana Taurasi, who starred for UConn from 2000-04 before an illustrious professional career at the same time as Kobe's, will remember most.
"Just that relationship that he formed with his daughters -- that's when he was happiest, when he was coaching his daughter," Taurasi said. "You could just see it in his face. The times we spent -- he was just so deadset on that team being good, running the triangle (offense) like (he did with the Lakers under Phil Jackson).
"He was really, really into it and it's just sad that we're not going to know what he could've done in any capacity."