I haven’t been able to sleep much since Sunday’s announcement of the deaths of nine people, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant. I’ve been chewing on it, because it feels strange to experience so much grief over the loss of people I’ve never met. Though, I believe the reason it has weighed heavily on my heart goes beyond my devastation about their final moments together. I think what it comes down to is this: I can’t accept the way the future looks without Gianna Bryant.
Growing up, I only had one poster on my bedroom wall: Kobe Bryant shooting that signature fadeaway in his Lakers uniform. Adoring him for many years, I saw in him the embodiment of the American dream: if you work hard enough, harder than anyone else, you’ll be rewarded. And to me, because “reward” means a long, fulfilling life, his death still feels surreal — unbelievable.
When it comes to Kobe specifically, Aly Wane put my thoughts into words better than I ever could. But this post isn’t really about Kobe. It’s about his brilliant daughter, Gianna, “the Mambacita.”
I read a book recently, Hivemind: The New Science of Tribalism in Our Divided World. The gist was that since the dawn of time, humans have taken comfort in defining themselves through their social groups: groups that share their tastes, their faith, their heritage, or their other interests. As a result, we form a collective consciousness in which we share thoughts, emotions, and opinions, as though we have a single mind.
Basically, where you show up in the world: the events you attend, where you work, whether you’re on Twitter, what movies you watch, what city you live in, all impact who you are. And in that way, your context becomes a part of you, and you a part of it.
Here’s an example to help illustrate this reality: You can ask nearly anyone about Game of Thrones, and they’ll likely be able to tell you something about it: it’s a TV show; there are dragons; winter is coming — even if they’ve never watched a single moment of it. We soak up little bits of everything, without even trying.
Kobe was one of those parts that united the whole. We all yelled “Kobe” when tossing trash into the trash can. More recently, Kobe and Gigi were one. And in the future, it was going to be Gigi.
I’ve been soaking up these parts on Instagram. Over the last year I’ve invested in improving my basketball game, so I follow a lot of trainers and some pro players such as James Harden, LeBron James, and Steph Curry. As a result, Instagram shows me a lot of basketball content in my explore feed.
Every time I’m on there I’ve seen some sort of photo or video of Kobe, Gianna, or Kobe and Gianna together. Not just the meme that blew up over the last week. I’m talking a steady stream of tournament footage and partnered game-watching. And the way he looks at her, and she looks at him: man, what I wouldn’t give to have that with anyone — with everyone.
Through sharing their relationship publicly with us, Kobe gave Gigi a platform, whether she knew it or not. He sent us a signal that his daughter was important. And, that’s not something I’ve seen before: that was different.
She was different. She was going to be different.
This summer I took a trip to Japan. And one of the things I loved and simultaneously hated most about it, was the experience of not fitting in at all, for probably the first time in my privileged life. It was an exceptional perspective, and reinforced something we all already know: representation matters.
Black women everywhere need to see people like them being embraced with mega-celebrity status. Aside from Serena Williams, few black female athletes have a platform — and she clawed tooth and nail, literally fighting for her life for hers. Lisa Leslie, Simone Biles, and Crystal Dunn among many others all have delivered exceptional results in both traditionally male and female sports over time, and yet, they’ve barely been rewarded by our cultural spotlight.
I think Gigi was going to get that coverage. In fact, we had just started seeing her beginning to get covered alongside the likes of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu and Hopkins’ Paige Bueckers.
And, that was going to be a game-changer in terms of representing black women.
She was a game-changer. She was going to be a game-changer.
Despite me having more years of experience than my male boss, he often presents my ideas as things we’ve both been thinking about so that other male executives take note.
While in the last five years we’ve seen more women in the workplace rise to the top levels of companies, unfortunately, even the most capable women still need male champions to get them the platform they deserve.
Today, you’ll find very few male athletes speaking out on behalf of women athletes’ lack of pay equality. For them, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.
Because of Gianna, Kobe showed up at WNBA games for the last four years. He was not ignorant. He was involved. And together, they were going to break through the glass ceiling.
Gianna was breaking barriers. She was going to break barriers.
Gianna was the example some need to justify prioritizing being a dad or a mom.
In a world where we so often ask people what they do before we ask them who they are, the fact that #girldad was trending yesterday, is remarkable.
Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers, according to the ILO.
We see this mindset play out in athletics too, as many revered athletes, such as Shaquille O’Neal, go on to focus on brand building: a clothing line; a restaurant; a TV show after the league. Their second act becomes the challenge of expanding themselves as individuals into other capacities like a business.
Kobe’s great second act was focused squarely on his children: it was about going from “I” to “we”. His commitment to Gianna showed us another path is possible and equally respectable. As Diana Taurasi shared:
“The sad thing about it is, for as great as [Kobe] was at playing basketball, the greatest was coming. And you could see it. The last three years, you saw a different human being. You saw this person at peace. … He found happiness in the little things, like coaching his daughter. Showing his daughters that they could be more than anything they could have ever thought of being. I think we have a responsibility to make sure that message and mindset is carried on.”
Gigi was the best priority. She was going to be the best priority.
Gianna was passionate, and she put in the work. She had footwork; she had up-and-unders; she had fadeaways. Her bag of tricks was overflowing, and she was knocking down moves that took Kobe 20 years to learn. “She’s aggressive as hell,” Kobe once said, proudly.
Jewell Loyd of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm knew plenty about Gigi:
“When I went to work out with Kobe, most kids [Gianna’s] age would be on the tablet,” Loyd said. “She stayed still and watched the entire time. Didn’t say anything. She was studying the game of basketball.”
Gigi was “symbolic of his legacy, and also the future of women’s basketball.”
Gigi was redefining the WNBA. Gigi was going to redefine the WNBA.
At the young age of 13, Gianna already had the swag, the smarts, and the commitment. And that trifecta was only bolstered by the support from her NBA All-Star dad.
As Sue Bird put it:
“[Kobe’] was going on this journey with his daughter, and I think we could all feel that it was going somewhere special. For him as a father, for her as a future basketball player, for them in that father-daughter relationship.”
Gigi embodies everything we should value: men and women alike. We have a responsibility to carry on her message, mindset, and all that she was, and was going to become.
Let us invest everything we have into our passions. Let us elevate those around us. Let us be better every day. And, when the next Gianna emerges, let us advocate for her and amplify her platform, together.
RIP 2 and 24. Sending all the love in the world to the Bryant family.
Other articles I recommend reading because they are thoughtfully written:
Jamilah Lemieux’s Being “the Adult” in the Shadow of Death.
Love Gianna as much as we do? Check out the Gr8tist shorts by our sister company. Each purchase supports the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation.
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.