Lakers Kobe Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, but the game of basketball was still an important part of his life up until his untimely death.
On Sunday, Kobe lost his life in a fatal helicopter crash at the age of 41. TMZ reported that he and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were on their way to the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Gianna was expected to play in the game as part of the Mamba Cup Series.
Seven others were on the flight, including a pilot.
An hour before his helicopter went down, Kobe reached out to Shaquille O’Neal’s son Shareef, who recently announced that he was transferring out of UCLA.
At 8:19 a.m., Kobe DMed Shareef on Instagram, writing, “You good fam?”
Literally this morning you reached out to me ....😔 I love you forever unc❤️ I love you pic.twitter.com/3oVgvKKUkm— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Before knowing of Kobe’s crash, which occurred around 9:45 a.m., Shareef responded back at 10:58 a.m., “Yeah! Just been getting this work in trying to figure out my next move,” adding, “How you been?”
Shareef shared a screengrab of their direct messages, tweeting, “Literally this morning you reached out to me... I love you forever unc. I love you.”
Shaq mourned Kobe’s death, writing on Instagram, "There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !"
The night before their death, Kobe and Gianna were photographed at the Mamba Academy, where she played two games. Kobe was seen coaching Gianna from the sidelines.
The same night, Kobe also praised Lakers star LeBron James for surpassing his NBA scoring record to become the third-highest NBA scorer of all time.
Bryant wrote on Instagram, “On to #2 @kingjames! Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next. 💪🏾.”
His messages to James on Instagram and Twitter became his last social media posts.
Further out from his death, Kobe showed his support for the film “Just Mercy” just weeks ago by hosting a screening in Los Angeles.
He also took a trip to Washington with Gianna to watch Cashmere varsity player Hailey Vanlith play basketball. He shared a photo on Instagram, writing, “We took a trip to #cashmere today to watch @haileyvanlith11 hoop and she and her teammates put on a show! Can’t wait to watch her play next season @uoflwbb.”
Upon hearing of his death, Hailey wrote on Instagram, “I am at a loss for words. I can only be thankful God gave me time to build a friendship and mentorship with both of you. Never have I seen a passion for life burn so bright in two individuals. Thank you for changing my life. Conversations I shared with you both touched my heart and I will cherish them forever. Until I see you again, I love y’all and Rest In Peace❤️.”
Over the past few years, Kobe had been invested in developing Gianna into the next basketball superstar. He regularly posted about her games on Instagram.
TMZ reports Kobe even filed a trademark for "Mambacita," a nickname he came up with for Gianna, less than a month ago. According to the papers, Bryant had plans to put "Mambacita" on sportswear, including shirts, shorts, hats, jerseys, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and hoodies.
Last month, Kobe was also lending a helping hand after witnessing a car crash in Newport Beach. In video obtained by TMZ, Bryant was seen directing traffic before the police/paramedics arrived.
Along with teaching Gianna about basketball and going to his daughter Natalia’s volleyball games, Kobe was writing books, like “Legacy and the Queen.” He also won an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short "Dear Basketball," which was based on a children's story he wrote.
In September 2019, “Extra” caught up with Kobe, who had just welcomed his fourth child, a daughter named Capri, with his wife Vanessa. When asked if they would be trying for a boy in the future, Kobe said, “She wants a boy more than I do. I’m comfortable having girls. It drives her crazy when I say that — she says, 'We’re gonna get five girls 'cause you spoke it to existence.'"
Kobe's final months showed how much he prioritized his family, and how active he was in his pursuit of a career — and a life — after pro basketball.