Kobe Bryant: Athletes reflect on NBA legend’s push for equality and opportunity in women’s sports
LOS ANGELES - As fans around the globe continue to cope with the loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, female athletes discussed how the icon had an impact on women’s sports.
Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas along with eight other passengers on Sunday. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was gaining attention for her basketball skills, was also among those killed.
Tributes from athletes filled social media, with many women and organizations praising his continuous support.
The U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team tweeted that Bryant “always showed up” for the team.
“He was there before 2015. He continued to be there after 2019,” the tweet said, referencing the team’s World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019.
In a clip the team shared, Bryant said he came to support “the best in the world.”
“Gotta show our love, show our support. Great examples and role models to my girls - so here we are,” he said.
The basketball icon also attended games such as gymnastics and swimming for female Olympians – during his 2008 and 2012 stints on the U.S. Olympic basketball team and in 2016.
WNBA Nation, a podcast focusing on women’s basketball, mentioned that his daughter, who often went by Gigi, was the future of the WNBA. After Bryant retired in 2016, he began coaching his daughter’s middle school team.
“Kobe was the strongest ambassador for Women’s Basketball. We called him ‘future WNBA commissioner’ on mic all the time,” the tweet said.
Bryant was an outspoken supporter of the WNBA and even named players he believed would succeed in the NBA during an interview with CNN.
In a statement issued by the WNBA, the organization called Bryant a “true legend for our sport.”
“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,” the statement said, in part.
Derek Fisher, who played on the Los Angeles Lakers alongside Bryant and is head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, tweeted Sunday that his former teammate pushed “the game forward for young girls and women.”
“I want us to continue to push for what he was most recently striving for in terms of equity and opportunity for young girls, for girls like his daughters that are still with us, for girls like my daughters, for women to come. He didn’t just talk about those things, he lived it,” Fisher said during an interview with Good Morning America that he shared in the tweet.
One WNBA player, Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart, recalled creating a friendship with Bryant after he reached out to her when she ruptured her right Achilles tendon in April 2019. Bryant also ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2013.
“He was like, ‘Hey, this is Kobe. I just wanted to reach out to you and let you know if you need anything, I’m here,’” Stewart told Sports Illustrated.
She added that Bryant was one of her biggest supporters during her recovery process.
Stewart went on to tell the publication that while she’d never seen one of his NBA games, she respected what he’d done for the sport and especially how he advocated for the WNBA.
“He has a lot of respect for the women’s game,” she said. “He’s just always interested and paying attention. I mean, he’s one of the best to ever do it. I’m feeling terrible for his family and supporting them.”
Before being drafted into the WNBA, Stewart played forward for the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team — a school Bryant had his eye on.
He and Gigi would attend UConn women’s basketball games, and Gigi dreamed of one day playing for them. On Monday, UConn shared a photo of a No. 2 jersey, saying, “Mambacita is forever a Husky.”
In addition to his support for professional athletes, he showed his love for collegiate players. One player in particular was Oregon State’s Sabrina Ionescu.
News of Bryant’s death reached her and the team an hour before their game started Sunday.
In a brief on-court interview with ESPN, she dedicated her season to the NBA champion as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Ducks’ coach Kelly Graves elaborated further with ESPN about Ionescu’s close relationship with Bryant. She said the pair would talk often and met a few times when Bryant and Gianna attended Ducks games.
“It’s like losing a family member,” Graves said.