Everyone knows the impact that Kobe had on the NBA stage, which was nothing short of amazing. But it was his work on another stage that had all the wheels in motion before he and Gigi (among others) were tragically taken from us late January 2020.
Mamba Sports Academy was officially launched in 2018 (rebranding from the “Sports Academy” in 2016), in an effort to build a centre for young athletes to excel and get the best possible education under one of the greatest basketball minds.
In early May though, out of respect for Bryant’s family, the name “Mamba” has been officially removed from the academy, but his legacy will live on forever.
Kobe’s daughter Gianna had a huge passion for basketball, just as her father did.
The footage of the two of them working out together showed how great she was going to be. She had the trademark bite of the jersey (showing the determination and hunger), and had herself a fadeaway jump shot (just like her dad), which at her age was just scary!
Bryant began coaching his daughter Gianna’s team after retiring from the league, and the team showed a great amount of improvement from their earlier years.
Imagine bringing your kid to training and having Kobe Bryant run them through drills. You’d put your hand up to drive the kids to training every night!
Through her great play, Gianna expressed interest in attending the University of Connecticut (arguably one of the greatest Women’s basketball programs). Kobe took her to games and had a great relationship with their coach Geno Auriemma.
Gianna’s first experience at a Uconn game is best summed up by Geno, who said she was star struck with her idols (the Women's Uconn Basketball Team). This is crazy, given the fact that her father was Kobe Bryant (and all other big name NBA Players she would’ve been around), but the most star-struck she’s ever been was around her favourite team. That’s just how much that team meant to her, and where she aspired to be later down the track.
Kobe would be in constant contact with Geno regarding how his girls could get better on the defensive end of the floor. Geno laughed (given the girls were only 12, and also the fact that Kobe was one of the greatest defensive players of all time was asking him for defensive tips) but that’s how heavily invested he was to help his girls get better, by asking one of the greatest Women’s basketball coaches of all time for help.
Kobe and Gianna would also attend Oregon games with his Mamba team, watching a soon to be great Sabrina Ionescu, building a very strong relationship with her.
They both shared the same dream, which was to raise Women’s Basketball to the highest level at a national stage.
Sabrina worked on her game with Kobe, becoming one of the greatest College Basketball players in history (and was on her way to winning a national championship this year before COVID-19 shut that down).
Her relationship continues to be strong with the Bryant family, always seen with them at the family home, which speaks volumes of the bond the two shared.
At a professional level in the WNBA, Kobe was always the voice in support of some of the great female athletes.
Kobe gave the nickname (the White Mamba) to one of the greatest WNBA players of all time, Diana Taurasi.
Kobe was seen wearing the orange WNBA hoodie before any of his male counterparts and always spoke highly of the likes of Taurasi, Della Donne, Maya Moore, and Sue Bird, saying there was no doubt they could match it with anyone as their game commanded that respect for all they had achieved.
Kobe loved taking Gianna to meet her idols at WNBA Games and All-Star games. The look in her eyes said it all, and you just knew she was destined for stardom.
At Kobe and Gigi’s memorial at a packed out Staples Center, it wasn’t just the likes of Shaq and MJ that had their say.
Geno, Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu all had their say, and spoke of memories of the late great, and how big of an impact he had on their lives, as well as what Gigi could have been.
This speaks for how big he was on Women’s hoops, with the greatest mind in Women’s Basketball (Geno), the greatest player in Women’s Basketball (Taurasi) and the future great (Sabrina), all having a big say in the life of the late Bryant’s.
That in itself should tell you, Bryant was changing the way everyone should be viewing Women’s Basketball.
Everyone will be forever grateful for what he did for the Lakers, but also for the even bigger impact he was having on Women’s Basketball.
You can only hope Sabrina can continue to carry the torch and play with her “Mamba Mentality” for years to come and take Women’s Basketball to the next level.
Bringing her dream with Kobe, and making it a reality for many aspiring Women’s athletes.
We sat down with Shane Heal and asked him a few questions on women's basketball in Australia, and his support of his daughter, Shyla Heal, an up-and-coming Australian Women's Basketballer.