(Reuters) - Kobe Bryant called his daughter Gianna “Mambacita” after his own court nickname, “Black Mamba,” confident she would follow in his footsteps and become a professional basketball player.
On Sunday, the 41-year-old five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist died with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash northwest of Los Angeles as they pursued that dream.
Bryant and Gianna were killed traveling to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, where the Ventura County Star reported he was to coach her team in a tournament, citing stunned players and coaches at the sports facility.
Bryant was known as a family man, and his Instagram account is filled with pictures and videos of his wife, Vanessa, and four daughters, aged 17 years to 7 months old.
But it is Gianna, or “Gi Gi,” who was the star of many of the photos and videos, showing basketball skills that ESPN Women, only three weeks ago, compared with those of her father.
Since he retired from the National Basketball Association in 2016, Bryant had been coaching Gianna’s middle-school basketball team.
In a November video Bryant posted on Instagram, she finishes a solo dribble by scoring the kind of fadeaway “swish” basket known as a “Kobe” after her father’s signature shot.
In 2018, Bryant was caught on video saying his daughter was “hell-bent” on playing for the University of Connecticut Huskies, one of the top teams in women’s college basketball.
The next step for Gianna after college would have been the Women’s National Basketball Association, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Joe Bryant, who played in the NBA before coaching the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
Kobe Bryant told late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel in January that when fans came up to him and Gianna and said he had to have a boy to carry on his family’s NBA tradition, Gianna would tell them: “Oi! I’ve got this!” and he would say: “Yes, that’s right, you got this.”
He told the BET network two weeks ago that he had found a new passion for the game watching basketball with Gianna, seeing the sport through the eyes of a 13-year-old.
“It wasn’t me sitting there you know as an athlete or a player or something like that, and you know it’s like about me, and I don’t like that. It was her, she was having such a good time,” Bryant said.
Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Peter Cooney