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Remembering Kobe And Gianna Bryant. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 24, 2020 - 14:00   ET



VANESSA BRYANT, KOBE BRYANT'S WIDOW, GIANNA BRYANT'S MOTHER: He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children. He was mine. He was my everything.

Kobe and I had been together since I was 17 and a half years old. I was his first girlfriend, his first love, his wife, his best friend, his confidant, and his protector.

He was the most amazing husband. Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words.

He was the early bird and I was a night owl. I was fire and he was ice and vice versa at times. We balanced each other out.

He would do anything for me. I have no idea how I deserved a man that loved and wanted me more than Kobe.

He was charismatic, a gentleman. He was loving, adoring and romantic.

He was truly the romantic one in our relationship and looked forward to Valentine's Day and our anniversaries every year.

He planned special anniversary trips, and a special traditional gift for every year of our marriage. He even handmade my most treasured gifts.

He just thought outside of the box, he was so thoughtful, even while working hard to be the best athlete.

He gave to me the actual notebook and the blue dress Rachel McAdams wore in "The Notebook" movie. When I asked him why he chose the blue dress, he said it was because it was the scene when Ali comes back to Noah.

We had hoped to grow old together like the movie. We really had an amazing love story. We loved each other with our whole beings, two perfectly imperfect people making a beautiful family and raising our sweet and amazing girls.

A couple of weeks before they passed, Kobe sent me a sweet text and mentioned how he wanted to spend time together, just the two of us without our kids, because I'm his best friend first.

We never got the chance to do it. We were busy taking care of our girls and just doing our regular everyday responsibilities. But I'm thankful I have that recent text. It means so much to me.

Kobe wanted us to renew our vows. He wanted Natalia to take over his company, and he wanted to travel the world together.

We had always talked about how would be the fun grandparents to our daughters' children. He would have been the coolest grandpa.

Kobe was the MVP of girl dads, or MVD. He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave, and how to keep pushing forward when things get tough.

And when Kobe retired from the NBA, he took over dropping off and picking up our girls from school since I was at home pregnant with Bianka and just recently home nursing Capri.

When Kobe was still playing, I used to show up an hour early to be the first in line to pick up Natalia and Gianna from school and I told him he couldn't drop the ball once he took over.

He was late one time and we most definitely let him know that I was never late. So he showed up one hour and 20 minutes early after that.

He always knew there was room for improvement and wanted to do better. He happily did carpool and enjoyed spending time in the car with our girls.

He was a doting father, a father that was hands on and present. He helped me bathe Bianka and Capri almost every night. He would sing them silly songs in the shower and continue making them laugh and smile as he lathered them lotion and got them ready for bed.

He had magic arms and could put Capri to sleep in only a few minutes. He said he had it down to a science, eight times up and down our hallway.

He loved taking Bianka to Fashion Island and then watch her play in the koi pond area and loved taking her to the park. Their most recent visit to the koi pond was the evening before he and Gigi passed.

He shared a love of movies and the breakdown of films with Natalia. He enjoyed running out theaters and taking Natalia to watch the newest "Star Wars" movie or "Harry Potter" films.

And they would have movie marathons and he enjoyed every second of it. He loved your typical tear jerkers, too. He liked watching "Step Mom," "Steel Magnolias" and "Little Women." He had a tender heart.


V. BRYANT: Kobe somehow knew where I was at all times, specifically, when I was late to his games. He would worry about me if I wasn't in my seat at the start of each game and would ask security where I was at the first time out of the first quarter.

And my smart ass would tell him that he wasn't going to drop 81 points within the first 10 minutes of the game.


V. BRYANT: I think anyone with kids understands that sometimes you can't make it out the door on time, and eventually he was used to my tardiness and balled out.

The fact that he could play on an intense professional level and still be concerned by making sure we made it to the game safely was just another example of how family came first to him.

He loved being Gianna's basketball coach. He told me he wished he would have convinced Natalia to play basketball and said they could have spent even more time together.

But he also wanted her to pursue her own passion. He watched Natalia play in a volleyball tournament on her birthday on January 19th, and he notice how she's a very intelligent player.

He was convinced she would have made a great point guard with her vision of the court.

And he told me that he wanted Bianka and Capri to take up basketball when they get older, so he could spend just as much time with them as he did with Gigi.

And Kobe always told Bianka and Capri that they were going to grow up and play basketball and mix the asset.


V. BRYANT: Now they won't have their daddy and sister here to teach them and that is truly a loss I do not understand. But I'm so thankful Kobe heard Coco say "Dada."

He wasn't going to be here to drop Bianka and Capri off at pre-K or kindergarten. He isn't going to be here to tell me to "Get a grip, V" when we have to leave the kindergarten classroom or show up to our daughter's doctor's visits for my own moral support.

He isn't going to be able to walk our girls down the aisle or spin me around on the dance floor while singing "PYT" to me.

But I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband and father he was. The kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better and to keep them from making his own mistakes.

He always liked working and doing projects to improve kids' lives. He taught us all valuable lessons about sports through his NBA career, his books, his show detail and his Punies podcast series and we're so thankful he left those lessons and stories behind for us.

He was thoughtful and wrote the best love letters and cards. Gigi had his wonderful ability to express your feelings onto paper and make you feel her love through her words. She was thoughtful like him. They were so easy to love. Everyone

always naturally gravitated towards them. They were funny, happy, silly and they loved life.

They were so full of joy and adventure.

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, and I've got Nani, Bebe and Koko. We're still the best team. We love and miss you, Boo Boo and 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 -- Mommy.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: This speaker from whom we are about to hear is very special to the Bryant family. She is their dear friend, who's also a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time WNBA champion, three-time NCAA champion, the WNBA's all-time leading scorer and if that isn't enough to convince you that she is one of the best of all time, Kobe gave her the greatest honor of all, he nicknamed her after himself.

Please welcome the white Mamba, Diana Taurasi.


DIANA TAURASI, AMERICAN BASKETBALL PLAYER: My name is Diana Taurasi. Thanks, Jimmy. You stole my first joke. I am the white Mamba.


TAURASI: I would first likely to offer my deepest condolences to all the families who a lost loved one.

In 1996, I was a lanky awkward freshman in high school, obsessively shooting night after night in my driveway.

On the nights the Lakers played, I wouldn't miss a second of the game. Every time out, every commercial. I run to the front yard to imitate my favorite Laker, Kobe.

On a few lucky occasions, my dad would come home from work. He was a metal sheet worker in Los Angeles, and he'd come home with Laker tickets.

Watching Kobe play the Great Western form as a rookie made this little girl believe she could be a Laker one day. It was like getting to know myself every single day. He made it okay to play with an edge, that borderline crazy.

Early onset Mamba mentality was in full effect.

Years later, when I spent time with Kobe at the 2008 Olympics, I learned firsthand that it just wasn't limited to the basketball court. His competitive fire ran through his veins, just like many of us today.

Every single workout, I end the same way with a Kobe game winner.

Three hard dribbles going right. Left foot plant, pivot, swing right leg through, elevate, square up, follow through.

Five in a row and I got to go home.

It's that exact same shot that won us a championship in Phoenix in 2014.

Kobe's willingness to do the hard work and make the sacrifice every single day inspired me and resonated with the City of Los Angeles.

We struggled together. We grew together. We celebrated victories together.

The same passion we all recognized in Kobe, obviously, Gigi inherited. Her skill was undeniable at an early age.

I mean, who has a turn away fade away jumper at 11? LeBron barely got it today.



TAURASI: But it was her curiosity about the game that was pushing her to pick up the basketball every single day.

Gigi was in the midst of the best times in a basketball player's career. No responsibilities, no expectations. Just basketball with your best friends.

Every weekend was a new adventure, an opportunity to learn how to work and grow together as a unit.

As a young kid, there's nothing you look forward to more than long, hot summer days in the gym with your homies.

The same way Kobe inspired a generation of basketball players, Gigi then turned Kobe's interest in coaching and teaching the game.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who received a text from Kobe asking me what drills they were doing when they were 13. Gigi in many ways, represents the future of women's basketball. A future where a young woman aspires to play in the WNBA the same way I wanted to be a Laker.

Gigi already had goals to play for UConn. That in itself showed her fearless mentality.

She represents a time where a young girl doesn't need permission to play. Her skill would command respect. The last time I saw Gigi, the Mambas were in Phoenix for a big AAU

tournament. Kobe brought them to the locker room to watch practice. I always remember the look on Gigi's face.


TAURASI: It was a look of excitement, a look of belonging and look a fierce determination.

As a daughter, a sister, wife and mother, we embrace Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.

We promise to carry Gigi's legacy.

(Speaks in Spanish).


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just as her father was to our next speaker, our next speaker was to Gianna. Mentors know no gender or race. They just know they're here to help others.

And one of Gianna's most impactful teachers and friends was Sabrina Ionescu. Following her parents here this morning, she'll fly back to the Bay Area to face Stanford, undoubtedly with thoughts of her time here ever present in her mind.

Please welcome NCAA all-time leader in points, assist and three-point field goals, Sabrina Ionescu.


SABRINA IONESCU, BASKETBALL PLAYER: Growing up, I only knew one way to play the game of basketball -- fierce with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I love the work even when it was hard, especially if it was hard.

I knew I was different, that my drive was different.

I grew up watching Kobe Bryant, game after game, ring after ring, living his greatness without apology. I wanted to be just like him, to love every part of the competition, to be the first to show up and the last to leave, to love the grind, to be your best when you don't feel your best and make other people around you the best version of themselves and to wake up and do it again the next day.

So that's what I did. Wake up, grind and get better. Wake up grind and get better.

A year ago, my team, Oregon, was playing at USC, the morning of the game, our coaches told us that there was a surprise for the day.

I was thinking Nike sent us some new shoes or swag or something. The game starts and shortly after, Kobe walks in with his daughter, Gianna and two of her teammates.

They sat courtside while my jaw sat dropped. They watched the entire game. And that was the first time I met Kobe.

Kobe, Gigi and her teammates came into the locker room after the game. He congratulated us on the win that day in our season up to that point, but said, and I'll never forget, don't shoot yourselves in the foot. He meant don't settle -- to keep grinding, control what you can.

The National Championship wasn't far and our goal was to win it all.

I remember Gigi excited and smiling in the locker room. I'd always watch a ton of film of her playing basketball. She had a fade away better than mine.

I asked her where she wanted to play ball in college and she said UConn. She had the will and determination to be able to play wherever she wanted. And if she wanted to go there, I wanted her there as well.

She and her teammates hung out with us for a while, star struck and a little shy, but always observing.

Whichever school she would come to choose, it didn't matter. If I represented the President of the women's game, Gigi was the future and Kobe knew it. So we decided to build a future together.

I worked out twice with Gigi over the summer, I'd gone down to help Kobe coach his team. Gigi had so much of her dad's skill set. You could tell the amount of hours they spent in the gym, practicing her moves.

She smiled all the time, but when it was game time, she was ready to kill. Her demeanor changed almost instantly when the whistle blew.

I remember one time someone grabbed her jersey and she sort of just knocked them down and then stepped right over them.


IONESCU: Me and Kobe looked at each other smiling and he goes, I don't know where she learned that from.


IONESCU: I laughed and said, I do. You can't teach that and definitely not at her age. Kobe was right. She had it.

I loved watching how hard she worked and how much her teammates loved her, but also her own desire to be great.

She always wanted to learn, to go to every game she could -- college, NBA WNBA. Kobe was helping her with that because he saw it enter. Just like he saw it in me.


IONESCU: His vision for others is always bigger than what they imagined for themselves. His vision for me was way bigger than my own. More importantly, he didn't just show up in my life and leave, he

stayed. We kept in touch, always texting, calls, game visits, a drop, a triple double and have a text from him, another triple double IC with a flex emoji. Another game, another text, yo beast mode or easy money.

I felt some pressure early on in the season and he wrote to me, be you, it's been good enough and that will continue to be good enough.

He taught me his step back. He told me that if I could bring that to my game, it'd be over for any defender trying to guard me.

He told me how high my arc needed to be on my shot, how to angle my foot, which led to kick out, how much power to push off.

Real sharpness comes without effort, he said. He was giving me the blueprint. He was giving Gigi the same blueprint.

He united us. He made it so that the outsiders who had worked everyone else, who are driven to be just a little bit different every single day, to make those around them behind them and above them a little bit better every single day.

And they weren't the exception. They were the rule.

I wanted to be a part of the generation that changed basketball for Gigi and her teammates where being born female didn't mean being born behind, where greatness wasn't divided by gender.

You have too much to give to stay silent, that's what he said. That's what he believes. That's what he lived, through Gigi, through me, through his investment in women's basketball. That was his next great act, a girl dad. Basketball in many ways was just a metaphor.

I still text him even though he's not here. Thank you for everything. The rest is for you. Rest easy, my guy.

The last one I sent him said I miss you. May you rest in peace, my dear friend. The text go through, but no response. It still feels like he's there on the other end, that the next time I pick up my phone, he would have hit me back.

Sometimes I find myself still waiting.

It's so strange to describe him or Gigi in the past tense. You don't get used to that. No one tells you that about grief.

The week after the accident, I was in Colorado, I had a game and like I do before every game, I prayed. This time I was thinking about Kobe and Gigi. His voice is still in my head even if his body is not on this earth, and all I wanted was a sign that in some way he still heard me, too.

I looked off into the sky and there it was, a beautiful golden sunset, the boldest yellow, Lakers yellow and further in the distance, a helicopter. There was my sign that he will forever be with me. I heard his voice in my head, the last line from one of his books.

Walk until the darkness is a memory and you've become the sun on the next traveler's horizon.

Today may feel like darkness, he was in so many ways, a sun, beaming, radiating fixed in the sky.

I ask each of you, every girl dad, every human here with a voice, a platform and a heart to not let his sun set, shine for us for our sport where he wants to invest in us with the same passion and drive and respect and love as he did his own daughter.

In the end, she was a sun just starting to rise and God, did she glow. May their light forever shine. Kobe and Gigi, I love you forever. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Among the many dreams that the lovely Gianna would have realized in her life was that of playing for one of the greatest women's collegiate basketball teams in history, the Huskies of UConn.

One of the highlights of her and father's lives was a visit they made to the campus in March 2019.

Here today to speak on his friendship with both of them is the 11-time NCAA championship coach of the Huskies, Geno Auriemma.


GENO AURIEMMA, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: There's some amazing women in this room, aren't there?


AURIEMMA: And you just heard from three of them. I'm Geno Auriemma and I'm the coach of the UConn women's basketball program.


AURIEMMA: And a lot of people want to talk about basketball today, and I don't know that that's why I'm here. I'm not here for the basketball part. I tried to write a long flowing speech about basketball and I can't do it. There's too many thoughts in my head ever since Vanessa asked me to speak.

Too many things that made me realize more that I'm here as a father, not as a basketball coach and also tie ins as these just showed you, we're very -- we're very, very emotional people. Right, Mike? At least, half the time.

So the thoughts that I started to have after I was asked to speak were obviously about all the people that were on board.

And if you're a father, a grandfather, you feel a different -- a different kind of emotion when there's children involved.

Because this is always about the children. We've lived our lives. We have a little bit left. They're just starting their lives. And then my next thought came to the original team that Kobe was responsible for, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, Vanessa because we're always teammates, you know, we're always on a team. Sometimes it's a big team. Sometimes it's a small team. And that's the most important team.

And Kobe and I shared some history. He started in Italy, went to Philadelphia and then went to the limelight and the lights and glamour of LA.

I was born in Philadelphia and went to Philly and went to the cows up in Storrs. That was a joke because there's no lights and there's no glitz and glamour and Storrs, Connecticut.


AURIEMMA: And how ironic that he would talk to me about coaching. The uncoachable one wants to talk about coaching.


AURIEMMA: Probably the most uncoachable player in the NBA during his career wants to know about coaching. And I wanted to know why, he said I'm coaching my daughter's team.

I said, Oh my god, that poor kid.


AURIEMMA: So when I watched the highlights of her playing, and on about the third or fourth time she touched the ball, Gianna passed it when she was open.


AURIEMMA: I thought she's not listening to her father.


AURIEMMA: So he would call and say what kind of defensive drills should I do? We have practice tonight, we're going to work on defense. What do you think is the most important thing in teaching man to man? Further proof, he never listened to one word any of his coaches told him.


AURIEMMA: So I try to explain to him, I said, Kobe, they are 13 years old. I think you ought to just say hey, you know, see the kid with the ball, try not to let her go by you and see if you're guarding the other guy who see the kid with the ball over there. Don't let him throw the ball to your guy. Keep it kind of simple, you know?

[LAUGHTER] AURIEMMA: He said no, I want to know like, what are the rotations

when they drive? I said, come on, come on, come on.

So these are the conversations that we have both as basketball people and as dads who have ever coached their kids. If you've ever been in that situation, like a lot of people here in this room probably have been.

And I remember when Gigi came as you saw on that video, she came to the very first game that she came to, and she came into the locker room. And here she is, and the look on her face. The smile. The way her eyes just took everything in, how excited she was to be around in her mind, royalty. It's ironic. Her father is royalty.