On January 26, 2020 Vanessa Bryant’s life changed forever. Both her famous husband Kobe Bryant and her second daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in California. The accident claimed the lives of nine people in all. Vanessa was of course devastated. You see, she and Kobe had weathered so many ups and downs over the years.
Now, the accident happened as Kobe was flying north west of Los Angeles with his daughter to coach her basketball team. On board the helicopter with them were two of her teammates, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli and 13-year-old Payton Chester, plus Alyssa’s parents, Payton’s mother, basketball teacher Christina Mauser, and the pilot. Tragically, all of them were killed.
And celebrity gossip website TMZ was the first to report that the accident had claimed Kobe Bryant’s life. In fact, it published the story just a couple of hours after the crash took place. This was before the coroner’s office had confirmed for certain who was on board the helicopter, let alone informed victims’ families.
But as the day went on, the identities of the helicopter crash victims were confirmed. Still, in a press conference Los Angeles County sheriff Alex Villanueva condemned the initial wave of reporting. He said, “It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished and to learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate.”
Of course, the wider world will probably never know how exactly Vanessa learned about what had happened. But on January 30 she released a saddening statement on Instagram. It began, “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”
And Vanessa went on, “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe – the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna – a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.”
Saddeningly, the superstar’s wife added, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
And at the end of her post Vanessa wrote, “Thank you for sharing your joy, your grief and your support with us. We ask that you grant us the respect and privacy we will need to navigate this new reality.” To add to that, she announced the creation of a fund that would “help support the other families affected by this tragedy.”
Now, Vanessa and Kobe Bryant had been married for almost nineteen years before the tragedy. And they had weathered plenty in their relationship, too. In fact, the pair had first met on the set of a music video, when Vanessa was 17 and Kobe 20. What’s more, young Vanessa, who had lived a sheltered and strict life, fell head over heels.
Yes, because in 2005 Vanessa’s old classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times, “She’d bring pictures of Kobe to school, and we’d all be like ‘Omygod!’ I remember there was one of him playing with her puppies, and she would only let us look at it, we couldn’t touch it. Even then, a lot of people didn’t believe her. But then he gave her that massive engagement ring, and that shut everyone up.”
And Kobe never forgot his first meeting with his future wife. You see, in the 2015 documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse he said, “For those that don’t know, yes, I had a budding music career as a rapper. It didn’t last long, but I did make a video. On the video set is where I first met Vanessa. It was a two-day video shoot, and I was always looking for her, like I wanted to know where she was.”
The basketball star went on, “I would finish a take and go to my trailer but I would wonder where she was the entire time. Then I would come out of the trailer and just wanted to talk to her some more, in between takes and stuff like that. She was just beautiful. We literally did everything together.” And the two bonded over something slightly unusual.
Indeed, that something was a shared love for Disney. Kobe remembered on Kobe Bryant’s Muse, “I loved the Disney movies and things like that, but I never really had a chance to go to the (Disney) park much. She was a big Disney fan, too, and we used to hang out at Disneyland, we used to go to Magic Mountain, she became my best friend.”
So in 2001, less than two years since they’d first met, Vanessa and Kobe got married at the St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in California. Yet it was a very small ceremony and Kobe’s family were not present. You see, the basketball player’s romance with Vanessa had created a large rift in the Bryant family.
Yes, and some might be surprised by this. For in 2003 Kobe told the Orlando Sentinel that his father, Joe, refused to accept him marrying somebody who wasn’t African-American. (Vanessa is Latina.) Not only did he not attend his son’s wedding, he hadn’t gone to see his first grandchild, Natalia, either.
Kobe told the Orlando Sentinel, “Sure, I miss my father. Who wouldn’t miss his father? It’s not about basketball. It’s about having somebody to go to a ballgame with. It’s about having somebody to hang out with. That’s what I miss.” But Joe Bryant gave only vague reasons for the family rift.
During a promotional session for a new sport called SlamBall that year, Joe told reporters, “Twenty years from now, when his own child grows up, he’ll understand what I’m doing… When Kobe made a decision to be with someone he cared about, Pam [his wife] and I decided it was time to back off, that’s all it was.”
Furthermore, Vanessa and Kobe didn’t have a prenuptial agreement, something which caused concern among the young woman’s own family. For instance, her stepfather Stephen Laine told the Los Angeles Times in 2005, “We’d been going back and forth for months over a prenuptial agreement. She just came home one day and said something to the effect that Kobe didn’t want a prenup – that he loved her too much.”
Then Gianna, the couple’s second child, was born in 2006. Her full name was given as Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and Kobe announced in a statement, “The arrival of our daughter early this morning is an incredible blessing for me and my family. We are all full of beautiful emotions after what has been such an incredible day.”
So things seemed to be going well for basketball’s most famous couple. But then Vanessa suddenly filed for divorce in 2011, ten years after the couple had first married. At the time Natalia was eight years old, and Gianna was just five. And Vanessa’s reason for filing was given as “irreconcilable differences”, according to ABC News.
Meanwhile, TMZ alleged that the divorce had come about because of cheating incidents on Kobe’s part. You see, they spoke to “sources connected with the couple” and were apparently told, “[Vanessa’s] been dealing with these incidents for a long time and has been a faithful wife, but she’s finally had enough.”
Of course, much was made over the fact that the couple didn’t have a prenup. If the divorce really did go ahead, the media claimed, Vanessa would be entitled to half of all the money Kobe had made with the Lakers. So with that, it appeared the fairytale romance was well and truly over.
And furthermore, Kobe and Vanessa’s representative released a statement to the media at the time saying, “The Bryants have resolved all issues incident to their divorce privately with the assistance of counsel and a judgment dissolving their marital status will be entered in 2012.” But in the end, thankfully, that never came to pass.
Yes, because in 2013 it emerged that Kobe and Vanessa would not be getting divorced after all. Apparently, they had been seen together regularly holding hands and having dates, and the whole separation had been called off. For fans of the couple, that was needless to say extremely good news.
Touchingly, Vanessa posted a statement to her Instagram account that January on behalf of both herself and Kobe. And it confirmed the reports, reading, “We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together. Kobe & Vanessa.”
What’s more, two big milestones happened for the couple in 2016: first their third daughter, Bianka, was born. Then Kobe retired from professional basketball and settled into life as a devoted father. In fact, he did his first post-retirement interview with Ellen Degeneres, and told her his daughters thought his skills were “pretty awesome.”
And in April 2017, while promoting the short film Dear Basketball, Kobe chatted to Extra about his post-retirement life. Actually, he told presenter AJ Calloway that now he was focused on “taking the kids to school, going to the office and writing, and trying to create stories that will hopefully impact people tomorrow.”
Furthermore, when asked about his family, Kobe declared, “They’re great – Vanessa’s good, Natalia, Gianna, and Bianka are good. Natalia’s 14, Gianna will be 11 in seven days, and Bianka’s four months… it’s crazy! Three girls!” And when he was questioned as to whether he’d ever want a boy, he told Extra , “I hear boys are just walking tornadoes. We’ll see. I think Vanessa wants a boy more than I do.”
Indeed, that appeared to be the case. Because when Kobe appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in April 2019, during which Vanessa was pregnant again, he confirmed the new baby would be a girl. He said, “I’m super excited. I love my princesses. Vanessa was kind of putting the pressure on me to have a boy. She said, ‘You can do it, you can do it!’ And then, ‘Nah, you can’t do it.’”
Also, Kobe told Ellen that he wouldn’t mind having a fifth daughter or son eventually. He said, “I would go for a solid starting five. You just have your own internal basketball team. I would say yeah, but Vanessa right now would look at me as if I was crazy. She’s like, ‘No, we’re done. That’s it.’”
So the new baby girl was born on June 20, 2019. And both of the parents announced the happy occasion on Instagram, giving her full name as Capri “Koko” Kobe Bryant. Vanessa wrote, “So thankful for our newest baby blessing.” While Kobe added, “We are beyond excited that our baby girl “Koko” has arrived!”
Now, Kobe was always thrilled to be a father of young women. And in September 2019 he told Jimmy Kimmel, “I love having girls… I always say if you look at the eldest daughter, she’s always like the calm, responsible, thoughtful one, and then the second sister is like a tornado… That’s certainly like our house, and then we have two other ones.”
Therefore, despite the initial problems and separation, Kobe and Vanessa seemed to bounce back, making their marriage thrive once more. And when news of the terrible tragedy broke, many expressed concern for Vanessa alongside their tributes to Kobe. For she had lost a husband and daughter in one day, something few of us will ever experience.
Actually, singer Jessica Simpson, who lived close to where the helicopter went down, offered her condolences to Vanessa. She wrote on an Instagram post, “Vanessa, you are the woman and wife that championed your husband to greatness. My prayers are constant for everyone affected by this impactful loss.”
And former President Barack Obama was also taken aback by the tragedy. Writing on Twitter, he said, “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Poignantly, critic Rebecca Shuri seemed to sum up what a lot of people thought when she tweeted, “I can’t stop thinking about Vanessa Bryant, who was with Kobe longer than she was without him in her life, who has an infant child and two other young daughters, and who will have to bear this memory anew when each remaining daughter tries to reconcile this tragedy.” However, Vanessa did further share her thoughts on the tragedy soon after.
You see, in February the devoted mom revealed on Instagram how she was doing. And she wrote, “I’ve been reluctant to put my feelings into words. My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me.”
She went on, “Why should I be able to wake up another day when my baby girl isn’t being able to have that opportunity?! I’m so mad. She had so much life to live. Then I realize I need to be strong and be here for my three daughters. Mad I’m not with Kobe and Gigi but thankful I’m here with Natalia, Bianka and Capri.”
Vanessa concluded, “I know what I’m feeling is normal. It’s part of the grieving process. I just wanted to share in case there’s anyone out there that’s experienced a loss like this. God I wish they were here and this nightmare would be over. Praying for all of the victims of this horrible tragedy. Please continue to pray for all.”
Seeing Vanessa deal with the loss of both her husband and daughter has touched a lot of hearts. Indeed, she has barely known a life without Kobe since the pair met for the first time at such a young age. And at the moment, it seems a lot of people are just hoping that she will find peace and happiness again.