Kobe Bryant: The ultimate champion of the Women's NBA

  • Kat Lucas

How do we come to terms with the incomprehensible? By looking to Kobe Bryant as an inspiration, the man who came to define what it meant to be an elite athlete, and who became the ultimate role model for the next generation in basketball. 

One of his great moments off the court came in a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, when he described his dream that one day his daughter Gianna would go on to continue his legacy in the game.

“The best thing that happens, when we go out, fans will come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me,” he said. 

“And they’ll be like ‘you’ve got to have a boy, you and [Vanessa] got to have a boy, somebody to carry on the tradition, the legacy. And [Gianna’s] like ‘oi, I got this!’

“Like, that’s right! Yes you do, you got this!”

The heartbreaking reality, to compound another tragedy, is that such an ambition will never be realised. Gianna, who was just 13, was among nine people who died in the helicopter crash in California on Sunday. 

They were travelling to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for a practice session when the accident happened. 

A devastating image was posted of the children who were waiting for the party that never arrived. 

For many, Bryant will be remembered for everything he achieved with the Lakers. 

In a 20-year career, the shooting guard was an All-Star 17 times, won the NBA five times and was named MVP in 2008, as well as becoming a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the USA.

At the time of his tragic death at the age of 41, he had just been overtaken by LeBron James as the third-highest points scorer in NBA history.

His playing career had come to an end in April 2016, when he played his final game before retiring against Utah Jazz. 

As he left the court to so much acclaim for the last time, his attentions immediately turned to his other passions, one of which was promoting the Women’s NBA (WNBA). 

Mamba coached, attended games, and regularly watched on TV.

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was a great example of those he had an impact on personally and dedicated the season to him. 

She had taken to the court with “Forever 24 <3” on her trainers in reference to his jersey number, which the Lakers retired when he quit. Other NBA sides are now being encouraged to do the same and the Dallas Mavericks have already followed suit. 

Only last week, a video of Bryant went viral as he talked Gianna through a game at courtside. 

He also had links to countless female coaches and players, particularly at the Ducks, where he took Gianna to watch. The WNBA, in his words, was “beautiful”. 

In more devastating news for the basketball community, Christina Mauser has been named as another victim of the crash. 

Mauser was the coach of the girls’ basketball team at a private school in Orange County. 

Bryant’s dedication to promoting not only women’s basketball, but also women’s participation in wider sport and the profile of female athletes should be remembered as an instrumental part of his legacy. 

The great Magic Johnson called him “a mentor to both male and female players”. 

While for millions around the world, he was the inspiration, he found motivation in the women around him and was immensely proud of Gianna’s wish to become a top ball player. 

When so few legends of sport are either able or willing to address important issues, he also stood with Colin Kaepernick against the NFL. The former quarterback paid his own tribute on Twitter:

Mamba will be mourned and never forgotten for all he left behind, off the court as well as on it. 

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