The relationship between Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa, which spanned more than two decades, came to a tragic end on Jan. 26 when the NBA legend died in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles. He was 41.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was among the victims, along with seven others. The surviving members of the Bryant family, along with Vanessa, are daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and seven-month-old Capri.
Many tributes to Bryant remember him as a family man dedicated to his daughters and supporting Gianna in pursuing basketball.
His relationship with Vanessa before his death seemed to have entered a new phase, with the couple having two more children in the latter half of the 2010s.
But while the scrutiny around their relationship had calmed following Bryant’s retirement from the NBA in 2016, the couple’s marriage was filled with highs as well as lows prior to its devastating conclusion.
Summer 1999: Vanessa and Kobe meet
In 1999, Vanessa (nee Laine) was a 17-year-old high school senior from Orange County who was recruited to be in music videos for the Snoop Dog-led group Tha Eastsidaz, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Bryant was 20 years old when he met Vanessa that year. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2016 that the NBA star was trying to launch a side career in the music industry that didn’t take off and met his future wife in those circles.
“She’d bring pictures of Kobe to school and we’d be like, ‘Omygod,’” Vanessa’s classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Times in 2005.
A lot of people didn’t believe Vanessa was with Kobe, Squadrilli said, as Kobe was already established as a huge figure in the NBA at the time.
In November 2019, Bryant shared an old photo of him and Vanessa, stating: “On this year 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant I decided to take her on a date to Disneyland tonight to celebrate old school style (pre 4princesses) I love you my mamacita per sempre.”
April 2001: Vanessa and Kobe are married, without family support
Kobe Bryant and wife Vanessa during The 2002 Teen Choice Awards. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage/Getty Images)
After Vanessa turned 18, she and Kobe became engaged within six months of meeting and were married in April 2001. But his parents were notably absent from the ceremony. Bryant’s father, former NBA player Joe (Jellybean) Bryant, disapproved of the union because Vanessa was Latina and not African-American, Kobe confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel in 2003.
Kobe told the paper that since his relationship began with Vanessa, there had been a massive rift between him and his father. Joe denied any ill-feelings towards his daughter-in-law at the time, stating, “Once he decided to get married, it’s his life now,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
July 2003: Bryant is charged with sexual assault, Vanessa stays
Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa attend a news conference at Staples Center, the home of the Lakers, July 18, 2003 in Los Angeles following Bryant being charged with sexual assault. (Photo by J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images)
Just six months after Vanessa gave birth to daughter Natalia, Bryant was charged with one count of felony sexual assault after a 19-year-old hotel worker filed a complaint in Colorado.
He denied the accusations and said at a news conference that it was a consensual encounter.
Vanessa sat by his side as he spoke about the alleged assault and held his hand, reported ESPN.
“I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery,” he told reporters. “I love my wife with all my heart. She’s my backbone.”
At the time Vanessa released a statement that read: “I know that my husband has made a mistake — the mistake of adultery. He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal.”
Following this, Bryant bought Vanessa a US$4-million, eight-carat purple diamond ring, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Kobe said in a 2015 Showtime documentary that Vanessa suffered a miscarriage while expecting the couple’s second child. He blamed himself, wondering if the stress from his sexual assault charge might have led to the miscarriage at the time.
December 2004: The couple feuds with Lakers player Karl Malone
A friendship between Kobe and fellow Lakers player Karl Malone turned sour after Malone allegedly made “several inappropriate comments” to Vanessa at a game in November that year, according to a report from ESPN.
“Kobe has told me that he feels very hurt and betrayed by what happened,” Kobe’s agent Rob Pelinka told ESPN at the time, adding that Vanessa believed Malone made a pass at her. Pelinka also said Kobe told Malone to stay away from Vanessa.
Malone denied saying anything of that nature but apologized if he had offended her.
He tweeted a condolence message after the helicopter crash.
“I am at a loss for words…Kobe and Gianna you will never be forgotten,” he wrote.
Malone also posted pictures of himself embracing Kobe.
May 2006: Vanessa gives birth to Gianna
Vanessa gave birth to their second daughter Gianna — who died along with Kobe in the helicopter crash — on May 1, 2006.
2006: Couple starts foundation together
In 2006, the couple started the VIVO foundation which is now called The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping youth and families in need both int he U.S. and abroad, according to the foundation’s site.
The goal was to encourage young people to stay active by playing sports. The foundation supported people through financial resources, programs as well as raising awareness for building stronger local communities.
“Through this initiative, Kobe and Vanessa have sponsored international enrichment experiences for minority college students and provided domestic and international youth scholarships for the Kobe Bryant Basketball Academy,” the site noted.
In 2011, CNN reported, the foundation has partnered with the LA-based organizations to help support homeless children.
CNN noted the Bryant family supported several charity organizations throughout their lifetime, including Stand Up to Cancer, Make A Wish Foundation, among many others.
December 2011: Vanessa files for divorce
After 10 years of marriage, Vanessa filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. It was noted that the couple did not sign a prenuptial agreement, so Vanessa would be entitled to half the money he made with the Lakers, according to ABC News.
2013: Couple announced they’ve reconciled
In January 2013, Vanessa posted a statement to Instagram announcing that the couple had decided to get back together.
“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,” the post read.
2016 and 2019: Vanessa gives birth to their third and fourth daughters
The couple welcomed new children into their family in 2016, with the birth of Bianka, and again in 2019 with daughter Capri.
Kobe often shared social media posts of all his daughters and Vanessa, calling his children his “4 princesses” in one post.
Especially after Kobe retired in 2016, he and Vanessa really shared their role as parents, said Richard Powers, national academic director at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and expert in Kobe Bryant as a franchise. They took pride in their family, he said.
“You can see some of the things that he’s been doing… in terms of trying to promote women’s sports, and coach with his daughter who was an aspiring basketball player,” said Powers.
“He had a long runway to make a significant impact… and it’s unfortunate that that was cut short.”
January 29, 2019: Vanessa releases a statement about Kobe and Gianna
View this post on Instagram
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. 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. 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. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever. 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 honor our Team Mamba family, the Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the MambaOnThree Fund to help support the other families affected by this tragedy. To donate, please go to MambaOnThree.org. To further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports, please visit MambaSportsFoundation.org. Thank you so much for lifting us up in your prayers, and for loving Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka, Capri and me. #Mamba #Mambacita #GirlsDad #DaddysGirls #Family ❤️
Three days after the helicopter crash, Vanessa shared a heartbreaking post to Instagram of their family of six. She had made her account initially private in the first few days after the accident.
“My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” she wrote. “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the 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.”
In the statement, she said her family is also devastated for the families that also lost loved ones on Sunday and that she shares in their grief.
“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.”
“I wish they were here with us forever,” she said. “Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable.”
Vanessa also notes that the Mamba Sports Foundation, Kobe’s training facility for youth athletes, has set up a fund to support the other families impacted by the crash.
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