August 24 has been known as Mamba Day in Los Angeles since Kobe Bryant retired in 2016. With his passing in the tragic helicopter accident on January 26, 2020, the day has assumed heightened importance for not just Kobe and Lakers’ fans but for the basketball community as a whole.
When you think of Bryant, you likely recall him in a Lakers jersey, hitting clutch shots, breaking records and hanging banners. But a love for the women’s game was also a central part of his passion for the sport.
How Kobe lived out his love for women’s basketball
Bryant’s time associated with the women’s game grew exponentially after his 2016 retirement, alongside with the growing up of his daughter, Gianna. However, Kobe had been a fan and supporter of the women’s game since the beginning. During his early days as a Laker, a young Bryant told a reporter:
It’s an exciting league. I really enjoy watching it. It’s a lot more fundamental. A lot of players don’t have to rely on their athletic ability. What they rely on is their instincts of the game and what they’ve been taught from their coaches about the game. So you see a lot more pure basketball in the WNBA.
As Gigi grew older and expressed an interest in pursuing a basketball career, Bryant did everything he could to show her what was possible. He founded the Mamba Sports Academy, coached his daughter’s AAU team under that same moniker and hosted many workouts with NBA and WNBA players, like Trae Young, Jayson Tatum and Diana Taurasi. These workouts not only helped the pros with their games, but passed down knowledge to everyone associated with Mamba Sports Academy. It was truly an each one to teach one environment.
When he wasn’t coaching Gianna, the two could be found on the sidelines of Sparks’ and Lakers’ games or on campus at UConn and Baylor to watch the women’s teams play. From the outside looking in, it appeared Bryant was entering a beautiful new chapter in his life—one where he embraced all aspects of the game in new and interesting ways. As a coach, a mentor, an ambassador and even a filmmaker, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball. With so many athletes struggling with life after the game, Bryant became a prime example of how to transition into the next phase of life.
Kobe and Gigi at the UConn game pic.twitter.com/4Vqo3yO5EL— Robert Littal BSO (@BSO) February 24, 2020
How Kobe’s love for the women’s game lives on
On January 26, 2020, Bryant was with his daughter, heading toward a game in Thousand Oaks. They never reached their destination, as the helicopter they were in crashed in Calabasas. Kobe, Gianna and the other seven people on board were killed.
When Los Angeles held a public memorial service for him inside Staples Center (now called Crypto.com Arena), the building was at maximum capacity, with thousands more mourning in downtown Los Angeles. Throughout the memorial, we were reminded of his impact on and importance to women’s basketball. When Sabrina Ionescu got a chance to speak, she shared:
His vision for others is always bigger than what they imagined for themselves. His vision for me was way bigger than my own. More importantly, he didn’t just show up in my life and leave. He stayed.
NBA 2K24 cover athletes Kobe Bryant and Sabrina Ionescu pic.twitter.com/WGtBFM3sjW— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 7, 2023
After seeing how invested Bryant was in the women’s game, it is saddening and maddening to hypothesize what impact he would’ve had if he had lived longer. It seems so unjust that a person willing to give so much could be taken so tragically. Even more so for his 13-year-old daughter.
However, while Kobe and Gianna are no longer with us, they are not gone. You can’t go anywhere in Los Angeles without seeing a Bryant mural. His sneaker still is one of the most popular shoes on the court. And talk with any former NBA or WNBA player and they’ll have a Kobe story, either a personal experience or moment that resonated with them and their pursuit of this profession.
So on Mamba Day, we celebrate, rather than mourn, Bryant and his impact on the women’s game, using his example to continue pushing the game forward. Ionescu summed up this sentiment perfectly during the conclusion of her speech:
Today may feel like darkness. He was, in so many ways, a sun beaming, radiating fixed in the sky. I ask each of you—every Girl Dad, every human here with a voice, a platform and a heart—to not let his sun set. Shine for us, for our sport where he once did. Invest in us with the same passion and drive and respect and love as he did his own daughter.