Women's Sport: Kobe Bryant memorial brings the subject of female empowerment to the forefront, and it’s here to stay

It was 10 am on a Los Angeles Monday morning when the basketball world gathered in the Staples Center to honour Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “GiGi” in ‘A Celebration of Life’ following the heart-breaking helicopter crash on January 26.

Over 20,000 friends, family and teammates came out to say their final goodbyes to the dynamic father-daughter duo who touched hearts worldwide, but it was the message behind Bryant’s adoration for the women in his life which will have an everlasting impact. Anybody who had the please of knowing the Lakers legend knew of his pride at being a GirlDad – a phrase that has quickly risen to the forefront of all Kobe conversations. 

The memorial service stood as a testament to Bryant’s years of dedication for women’s empowerment and the promotion of women’s sports. Beyonce sang “Halo”, Alicia Keys played Beethoven on a purple piano and true icons of women’s basketball – Diana Taurasi on the WNBA, Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon, and Geno Auriemma, the head coach of Connecticut – described Bryant’s impact on women’s sport.

In her first public appearance since the accident, Vanessa Bryant gave a powerful and emotionally personal tribute to the strong bond her husband shared with GiGi, herself and their three other daughters:

“God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other. He had to bring them home to heaven together. Babe, you take care of our GiGi… May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day. We love you both and miss you forever and always.”

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All speakers and performers were chosen by Vanessa as a homage to strong women who have and continue to achieve their dreams, some as a result of Kobe’s mentoring and some he wanted GiGi to look up to.

Just like her dad Gianna was an avid basketball player and was determined to follow in his footsteps. Constant questions surrounding whether Kobe wished he could have a boy to carry on the legacy ended in a resounding “no” from his Mabacita who knew the family did not need a boy to ensure Mamba Mentality lived on.

Ionescu, NCAA all-time leader in triple-doubles, considered Bryant a mentor and published an essay in “The Players’ Tribune” on Monday, the same day as her tribute at his memorial service. She stood centre stage looking towards the sky as she delivered the emotional and thought-provoking speech. 

“Kobe’s death also left me with some questions about my own path,” Ionescu wrote. “What was I supposed to do now without his presence?? Without his guidance?? Who was I going to turn to for advice?? And then on top of those thoughts, I had these almost even “angrier” questions, you know?? Like: How could the world have brought me together with someone like Kobe, someone who understood me so well — maybe the first person in my life who truly got me on this deeper basketball level — only to then rip him out of my life after less than a year?! And why?! It just felt cruel. It still feels that way.”

According to USA Today, Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka also shared his own story about how Kobe’s final act before his death was another effort to boost the opportunities available to a friend’s daughter. Kobe sent him a message just minutes before the helicopter crash in Calabasas at 9:30 am regarding a certain baseball agent in Southern California, hoping to secure a baseball agency internship for Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John Altobelli.

Pelinka said: “Kobe’s last act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.”

Kobe’s basketball life had been shaped by his willingness and dedication to helping young women find their feet and confidence in sports, no matter how big the dream. His memorial service on Monday was yet another testament to these selfless actions and we know that those affected will forever carry the Mamba Mentality close to their hearts.

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