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Beyond the basketball court was Kobe Bryant the father

Updated January 26, 2020 - 5:30 pm

MIAMI — My daughter got into her preferred college sorority Sunday. She texted me with the news and a picture of the bid and a heart emoji.

I wasn’t thrilled, never a fan of the level of anxiety and sadness such a selective process causes some.

But she has never been happier.

So I texted her back a heart emoji and told her how proud I was of her.

Because she’s my daughter, and I love her unconditionally.

A few hours later, upon landing here to begin covering Super Bowl week, news had broken about the helicopter crash that took the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

Soon after, we learned that his daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, was with him and also perished.

And that the lives of two of her travel ball teammates and parents of those children were also taken.

And that nine souls in all were lost.

And all I could think about were those heart emojis.

Damn, it’s true. We never really do know the love of a parent until we become one ourselves.

It’s why, while the basketball accomplishments of Bryant will be universally celebrated, his post-career relationship with his daughters fascinated me far more than any Mamba-type hoops domination.

He and wife Vanessa had four girls, ages 17 and 13 and 3 and not yet 1. And while few in sports history owned Bryant’s cutthroat competitive nature, fatherhood seemed to soften him.

It gave him a purpose beyond the adulation.

It fed his drive when the game was gone, and yet allowed him to share his love of it with his children.

And no one loved it more than Bryant. No one.

Mostly, being a father defined him in a way basketball never could.

It made him, well, more human.

We know of his off-court transgressions, of being accused of rape in 2003 and the case ultimately being dropped when his accuser refused to testify. We know about the civil suit and out-of-court settlement and public apology that followed.

You can’t tell his story without all the good and bad.

Anyone’s story, really.

But the most wonderful and indelible images of Bryant were with his girls, him posting pictures across social media of them playing basketball or volleyball, of performing ballet, of his eldest preparing to attend a high school dance.

I can’t count the number of snapshots we saw of Bryant and Gianna, his GiGi, sitting at basketball games, their smiles wide enough to fill all the courts in the world as father explained to daughter those minute details that he mastered like so few.

She was the baller, talented beyond her years, more like him than anyone.

She would also correct others when they told Bryant he needed to have a son to carry on his basketball legacy.

“I’ve got that,” GiGi would say.

And each of those pictures becomes more heartbreaking than the next now.

“We all want our kids to be the best version of themselves and dream as big as they can to reach their highest potential,” Bryant tweeted last September. “But chasing a dream takes a lot of courage. That’s what I want kids to learn by reading these novels.”

He spoke of the book, “Legacy and the Queen,” a creation of his about the kingdom of Nova and a 12-year old tennis player named Legacy who spent long days taking care of other kids at an orphanage.

In it, Legacy must rise above others who have been afforded the advantage of magic, using just her passion for the game and work ethic to overcome all competitors.

Sound like someone?

Send those emojis

It was another way for Bryant to teach his daughters about the traits that defined his own greatness, ones he hoped they would embrace most when facing life’s adversity.

Spouses and siblings and friends and family are left behind to grieve now, the pieces of such an unfathomable tragedy scattered in a million places. Nine souls.

Kobe Bryant will surely be named as part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

What a loss, not hearing him speak about what his wife and four girls meant to him when accepting the honor.

But he is gone at 41. It doesn’t feel real.

Most will remember the historic player, the author, the philanthropist, the venture capital businessman, the Academy Award and Emmy winner, the Mamba in all his glory.

I will remember the father.

My daughter got into a sorority Sunday. I wasn’t all that thrilled.

But, man, I’m going to drive her crazy with all the heart emojis to come.

To all parents, do yourself a favor: Never, ever stop sending them.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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