There was no shortage of moving tributes delivered to Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who both died unexpectedly in a helicopter crash that took a total of nine lives. During a “Celebration of Life” memorial that aired live on TV from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, several people closest to the Bryants, including Phoenix Mercury and WNBA player Diana Taurasi, spoke to the late athlete’s legacy on and off the court.
“I am the White Mamba,” Taurasi proclaimed when she first stepped up to the podium. She was making reference to the nickname Bryant gave her after the two players grew close after years of playing basketball together.
“I first would like to offer my deepest condolences,” she said before recalling being a young, aspiring player herself who would watch Bryant on TV and hope to be as great of a player as him. “He made it OK to play with an edge.”
Years later, while competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Taurasi remembered what it was like to see and work alongside Bryant in person. “I learned firsthand it wasn’t limited to the basketball court,” she said of his tenacity and greatness. “Kobe’s willingness to do the hard work... inspired me and resonated with the city of Los Angeles.”
Taurasi then turned her attention to Bryant’s daughter, whom she referred to as “Gigi” throughout her touching tribute. “Her skill was undeniable at a very young age,” she said, adding that “her curiosity about the game that pushed her to pick up the basketball every day... Every weekend was a new adventure.”
“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi continued, praising the young athlete’s ambition and skills on the court. “Her skill would command respect.”
Taurasi then fought back tears as she recalled a moment with Gigi after a game. “I’ll always remember the look on Gigi’s face. It was a look of excitement. It was a look of belonging. A look of fierce determination,” she said, adding: “We promise to carry on Gigi’s legacy.”
Shortly after he died, Taurasi spoke out about her enduring friendship with Bryant and his impact on the sport. “He meant so much to [Los Angeles]. That fighting spirit that he had -- I think everyone had that in them, and he found a way to make that OK for everyone to be that way,” she told ESPN. “We had a common thread -- the way we thought about basketball, the way we played. It wasn't forced, it was a natural relationship.”
In a conversation with CNN, Taurasi said that Bryant’s recognition of women’s basketball was important. “He was just trying to think outside the box and give us that validation, you know, as women's sports and athletes, that we are looking for,” she said, adding: “When you saw him with his daughter and the things that he was doing with different projects. I knew Kobe pretty well and he was a guy that was always moving forward. That's all we can do now is move forward for him.”
In addition to Taurasi, the Celebration of Life memorial also included performances by Beyonce and a speech by Oregon Ducks player Sabrina Ionescu, who also paid tribute to her mentor and his daughter. “Monday’s going to be a difficult day for her to speak at the memorial for Kobe and Gianna, but what a great opportunity and a great privilege and a great honor,” her coach, Kelly Graves, said.