Kobe Bryant, one of the biggest advocates for women’s sports, died on Sunday in a Calabasas, Calif., helicopter crash at the age of 41. The news of his death has left the world in mourning, including the WNBA, which is an organization the basketball icon continually supported.
“The WNBA mourns the sudden and tragic loss of NBA Great Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Kobe’s support for the WNBA and women’s basketball along with his passion for helping young girls and boys follow their dreams made him a true legend for our sport,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “We admired him not just as a legendary basketball player, but as a father, a youth coach, and a role model for future generations of athletes. On behalf of the WNBA, it is an incredibly sad day for all of us, and we send our deepest condolences to his family and all those who mourn his passing.”
Daughter Gianna, “GiGi,” 13, was among those killed in the helicopter crash, according to officials. The pair was reportedly en route to Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for one of GiGi’s travel basketball games. There were nine fatalities in total, according to AP.
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Bryant, who officially retired from the NBA in 2016, kept close to the sport as a coach to his daughters, including Gianna, who proved that Bryant didn’t need a son to carry on the family legacy. She was known as “Mambacita,” a reference to her father’s nickname “Black Mamba.”
Just last week Bryant made headlines 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. Following Bryant’s death, Donne took to Instagram, writing, “Not only did I have the pleasure of knowing Kobe, but I was also able to meet his beautiful daughter. My heart is broken. Thoughts and prayers for his family and the families of the other passengers on board.”
Rebecca Lobo expressed Bryant’s impact on the WNBA, writing, “No @NBA player supported the @WNBA or women’s college basketball more than Kobe. He attended games, watched on TV, coached the next generation. We pray for his family.”
Lisa Leslie took to Twitter as well, posting, “We have lost more than a basketball player today. We lost a legend, my friend and my brother! We have also lost a part of our future with GG gone too soon.”
Bryant not only championed women’s basketball, but women’s sports as a whole.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team honored him on social media, for instance, with players such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan sharing their thoughts.
Sydney Leroux opened up about her relationship with the NBA star, posting on Instagram, “Kobe – thank you for allowing me in to your beautiful family. Thank you for believing in me. Being there for me during the good times and the tough ones. For your crazy book recommendations and your quotes. For helping me write. For teaching me to never soften for anybody. For teaching me about the darkness and the light and the villains becoming the heroes. I won’t forget any of it. I’ll miss you.”
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Gigi you were a star. Your dad told me that you were going to be better than he was. You had the gift no matter what you were playing. I know you’ll be looking down on your mom and your sisters with your big smile while shooting hoops with your dad, doing what you both love. 2 will always be ours. Kobe – thank you for allowing me in to your beautiful family. Thank you for believing in me. Being there for me during the good times and the tough ones. For your crazy book recommendations and your quotes. For helping me write. For teaching me to never soften for anybody. For teaching me about the darkness and the light and the villains becoming the heroes. I won’t forget any of it. I’ll miss you.
Bryant made a profound impact on rising tennis star Naomi Osaka as well. The fellow Nike athlete took to social media thanking him for his mentorship.
And today, young tennis players Coco Gauff and Catherine McNally dedicated their Australian Open win to Bryant by wearing handwritten tributes on their sneakers. Gauff’s pink New Balance kicks had the words “Mamba Mentality” written across the midsole, with the number 24, on the upper as well as the words “RIP Kobe.” McNally wrote “Kobe” and his numbers, 8 and 24, on her white Adidas kicks.
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