Exactly one year ago today, NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gigi died in a fatal helicopter accident, a horrific tragedy that—366 days later—is still being mourned throughout the sports world.
Bryant’s momentous impact, both on and off the court, was detailed in a new episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” podcast, featuring a stacked lineup of guests including eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird and award-winning journalist LZ Granderson of the Los Angeles Times. Also making an appearance was New York Liberty guard and former University of Oregon standout Sabrina Ionescu, who delivered an emotional eulogy at Bryant’s memorial service in Los Angeles last February.
Ionescu first met Bryant when he attended one of her games in college. The two maintained a close friendship, frequently texting with Ionescu serving as a mentor to Bryant’s daughter, Gigi, a budding star with dreams of someday playing at a hoops powerhouse like UConn. Ionescu has no doubt she would have accomplished that and much more, describing Gigi as one of the hungriest and most competitive players she had ever seen.
“She was going to be great,” said Ionescu, who was selected with the first overall pick in last year’s WNBA Draft. “It was crazy to see how much fire she had inside of her and how much she reminded me of [Kobe] playing.”
Ionescu took an active role in Gigi’s development, training with her during summers off from school. Bryant would also forward her footage of Gigi’s game film to look over. “She inspired me to be a better role model. She inspired me to be a better player. I knew she looked up to me,” said Ionescu, embracing her role as Gigi’s mentor. “It made me want to work harder. It made me want to play better just so I could try and pave the way for her.”
While Kobe will long be revered for the five titles he brought to Los Angeles during his 20-year stint as a Laker, Ionescu thinks Bryant’s real legacy comes from what he did off the court, pouring everything he had into his wife and daughters. “I don’t think people understand how great of a father he was and a family man he was,” said Ionescu. “Everything he stood for as a father, as a husband, is really what spoke to me. He dedicated everything to Gigi and his family.”
Tributes have been pouring in all day with countless athletes and celebrities paying homage to Kobe and Gigi on the one-year anniversary of their passing.