Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
- Vanessa Bryant was the “Queen Mamba” to Kobe’s “Black Mamba,” and they were married for nearly 20 years.
- When Kobe and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash three years ago, fans, athletes, and journalists shared their memories of Kobe as a devoted husband and father.
- He and Vanessa met when she was in high school and he was a young NBA star.
- The couple weathered infidelity and teetered on divorce, but ultimately they stayed together until Kobe’s untimely death in January 2020.
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In the days after the crash, fans and athletes remembered not only Kobe’s incredible legacy as a basketball player but also his reputation as a loving family man who was devoted to his wife, Vanessa, and their four daughters.
At a public memorial service held at the Staples Center a month after the accident, Vanessa offered a heartbreaking tribute to her daughter and her “soulmate” Kobe. “God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other,” she said.
Vanessa and Kobe Bryant were married for 19 years before the basketball star’s sudden death.
The couple met when Vanessa was a senior in high school. Her classmates were stunned when she caught the eye of then-20-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Though many know the Black Mamba as one of the greatest players of all time, not as many know the woman who was by his side since the first years of his career.
This is how the Bryants weathered drama on and off the court while growing their family and cementing themselves as one of the most well-known couples in basketball.
Mark J. Terrill/AP
Her parents were protective and didn’t let her date much, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Screenshot via YouTube
Vanessa was called to appear in a music video alongside rappers Snoop Dogg and Tha Eastsidaz for their song “G’d Up” and wore a metallic bikini for her debut as a music-video model.
Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“She’d bring pictures of Kobe to school, and we’d all be like ‘Omygod!’ ” Vanessa’s former classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times. “I remember there was one of him playing with her puppies, and she would only let us look at it, we couldn’t touch it.”
Other classmates told the LA Times they remembered Kobe sending roses to the school office and picking her up from class in his Mercedes.
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The couple famously did not sign a prenuptial agreement. Vanessa’s stepfather, Stephen Laine, later told the Los Angeles Times that “she just came home one day and said something to the effect that Kobe didn’t want a prenup — that he loved her too much.”
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Fewer than two years after they first met, the couple got married at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Southern California’s Dana Point.
The ceremony was intimate and had only about 12 attendants, partially because neither Kobe’s parents nor his sisters went because they disapproved of him getting married so young and to someone who was not African American, the LA Times reported.
Kobe later told the Orlando Sentinel that his relationship with Vanessa had sparked a large rift between him and his father. His father, Joe, denied holding any hostility toward his daughter-in-law, saying they were “cool.” He acknowledged a rift with his son but said he respected Kobe’s life.
“It’s his life, we’ve got nothing to do with it,” he told the paper. “We’ve done our job.”
LEE CELANO/AFP via Getty Images
When they went out in public, bodyguards went too.
“I know that my husband has made a mistake, the mistake of adultery,” she said in the statement. “He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal.”
The Lakers guard held a July 2003 press conference in the Staples Center, where he acknowledged his infidelity but said the sexual encounter was consensual. As he spoke, Vanessa was at his side holding his hand.
“I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery,” he said. “I love my wife with all my heart. She’s my backbone.”
Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
Maya Rudolph played Vanessa.
It was initially rumored that the couple was headed for divorce after the scandal, but a $4 million 8-carat purple diamond ring was rumored to be a token of apology from the basketball star to his wife.
Douglas C. Pizac/AP
It included her name and angel wings on his right bicep.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Kobe said in the 2015 Showtime documentary “Muse” that Vanessa had a miscarriage while expecting the couple’s second child.
He said he blamed himself and had wondered if the stress she experienced during his cheating scandal and sexual-assault charge led to the miscarriage.
“It’s something I have a real hard time dealing with that because I felt like it was just my fault,” Kobe said in the documentary. “The reality is it happened because of me. That’s something I have to deal with. Something I gotta carry forever.”
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
“The arrival of our daughter early this morning is an incredible blessing for me and my family,” Kobe said in a statement. “We are all full of beautiful emotions after what has been such an incredible day.”
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
In 2007, the couple expanded their philanthropic reach when they established the Vivo Foundation, which would later become known as the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation.
The organization’s mission statement says it is dedicated to helping children and families in need with financial and educational resources and “encouraging young people to stay active through sports.”
The Bryants would later double their efforts in 2011 by founding a charitable organization that sought to fight homelessness and support homeless youth in Los Angeles.
In addition to their groups, the Bryants supported various other charities, including Stand Up to Cancer and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles
But after the filing, which cited “irreconcilable differences,” rumors swirled for months that the couple wouldn’t go through with it.
In January 2013, the couple posted on social media to make their reconciliation official, the LA Times reported.
“We are looking forward to our future together,” Vanessa said on Instagram. And Kobe wrote on Facebook that “when the show ends and the music stops, the journey is made beautiful by having that someone to share it with.”
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Sitting courtside was one of the many perks the family had access to when Kobe was the highest-paid player in the NBA.
The license plate on Vanessa’s Mercedes-Benz said “ICE QN,” according to the LA Times.
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Three years later, the couple welcomed their fourth daughter in 2019, Capri Kobe Bryant.
She did release a statement after her husband’s retirement: “I’m so excited to see what God has in store for us as a family now that one chapter is closing and new ones are opening.”
The new chapter of Kobe’s career expanded on the family’s existing efforts to encourage young athletes, and the father of four initially pulled away from basketball but became more involved in it as his daughter Gianna showed a flourishing interest in the sport.
Kobe coached his daughter’s team, the Mambas, and established the Mamba Sports Academy, which hosts a wide variety of athletes for holistic training, practices, and tournaments alongside NBA and WNBA players.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Kobe and Gianna were among the nine victims who were traveling to the Thousand Oaks, California, Mamba training facility when their helicopter crashed.
Fans, athletes, and sports journalists mourned the losses of one of basketball’s greatest icons and one of its most promising future athletes.
The singer Jessica Simpson shared an Instagram post after the accident that included a photo of the area where the helicopter crashed and a touching caption that paid tribute to Vanessa and Kobe’s relationship.
“My heart is completely broken for all the families and loved ones left behind trying to make sense of things in this tragic moment,” Simpson wrote. “Vanessa, you are the woman and wife that championed your husband to greatness.”
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
It was her first public social-media activity since their deaths on Sunday.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever. Thank you for sharing your joy, your grief and your support with us. We ask that you grant us the respect and privacy we will need to navigate this new reality. To honor our Team Mamba family, the Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the MambaOnThree Fund to help support the other families affected by this tragedy. To donate, please go to MambaOnThree.org. To further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports, please visit MambaSportsFoundation.org. Thank you so much for lifting us up in your prayers, and for loving Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka, Capri and me. #Mamba #Mambacita #GirlsDad #DaddysGirls #Family ❤️
A post shared by Vanessa Bryant 🦋 (@vanessabryant) on Jan 29, 2020 at 4:59pm PSTJan 29, 2020 at 4:59pm PST
Vanessa said that she and her family were “devastated” by the sudden loss of Kobe and Gianna.
She described them as “our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
Vanessa vowed they would continue despite their pain. She said: “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way.”
As part of the tribute, she announced a fund to support the families of the other seven people killed in the helicopter crash.
Kobe and Gianna were buried in a private funeral service two weeks after their death, but the public was given a chance to honor them in a memorial service held at the Staples Center on February 24.
Vanessa spoke through tears as she lamented both Gianna and Kobe’s passing.
“We will not be able to see Gigi go to high school,” she said. “We didn’t have the chance to teach her how to drive a car. I won’t be able to tell her how gorgeous she looks on her wedding day or see her walk down the aisle. She won’t have a father-daughter dance with her daddy or dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own.”
Vanessa said the 13-year-old could have become “the best player in the WNBA,” setting off cheers from the crowd that included athletes and celebrities like Michael Jordan, Jennifer Lopez, and Snoop Dogg.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
“He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children,” Vanessa said. “He was mine. He was my everything. Kobe loved me more than I could ever put into words. We balanced each other out. I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe.”
Vanessa said that “God knew they couldn’t be on this Earth without each other.”
“He had to bring them home to have them together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi. I got Nani, BB, and Coco. We are still the best team.”
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Bryant sued Los Angeles County for invasion of privacy and negligence, when it became known that sheriff’s deputies and firefighters had taken graphic photos of the crash site and shared them with others, in one case with a bartender.
Bryant was awarded $16 million for emotional distress, the proceeds of which she donated to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, the charity honoring her husband and daughter.