“He was just getting started,” Katie Lou Samuelson told FN. The Puma athlete and WNBA star was talking about Kobe Bryant and his contribution to women’s basketball. “It’s something we are all going to remember and keep trying to push forward. Now, I think there will be [more male athletes] that will step up and carry on that legacy.”
Kobe Bryant, who had become a vocal advocate for women’s sports, died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the age of 41. His daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, also died in the crash, along with John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Sarah Chester and Payton Chester.
The deaths have left the world in mourning, including much of the WNBA, an organization the basketball icon supported with unwavering conviction.
For Samuelson, it hit close to home.
“I knew him personally,” she said. “He was great with taking me [under his wing] and working with me to figure out what I needed to do to get better as a player. He actually sat me down and brought me to watch film and break it down,” Samuelson continued, recalling the time Bryant attended her Senior Day event at the University of Connecticut, which celebrates the team’s last regular home game of the season. “He’s been a big part of my life. It’s still unbelievable. It’s hard. I knew him, I knew Gigi, I knew the other girls. It’s sad. I was just lucky to have been able to know them.”
Bryant, who retired from the NBA in 2016, stayed close to the sport as a coach to his daughters, including Gianna. Fittingly, she was known as “Mambacita,” the diminutive form of her father’s nickname, “Black Mamba.” He made headlines shortly before his death for declaring that there were women who could play in the NBA right now, naming female ballers Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Elena Della Donne.
Bryant was also one of the first big names to comment on the WNBA’s eight-year, groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement that was announced in January. The historic agreement includes a significant salary bump, going from an annual base of $117,500 to $215,000 for top players, maternity leave, bonuses and more career opportunities after basketball.
In an interview to LA Sports Access in January, Bryant said, “I was really proud of Cathy (Engelbert) and the deal she was able to strike with the players association. There’s still so much room to grow, but this is a huge step in the right direction.”
Samuelson echoed Bryant’s sentiment: “It’s a great step forward. We are really showing that as female athletes that we have worth and we are going to demand what we deserve.”
The WNBA Dallas Wings player added, “Kobe was so dedicated to everything he did, whether it was his own basketball career or his next part of his life, which he was just getting started on with Gigi and women’s basketball. He was so invested and did everything so wholeheartedly that it’s something I want to take into my own life.”