Kobe Bryant and Vanessa Bryant were together for more than two decades before his death in January 2020
The late NBA legend met his future wife when she was just 17 years old. At the time, Kobe was a starting player on the Los Angeles Lakers — while Vanessa was a high school senior from southern California. Their paths crossed coincidentally when Vanessa worked as an extra on a music video of Kobe’s, and a whirlwind romance ensued. The young couple were engaged within six months and married less than a year later, in April 2001.
“For me, it was very different to have somebody that I was so close to, because I had been so used to growing up in isolation, really,” Kobe said about the early days of their relationship in the 2015 Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse. “But now, being in Los Angeles and feeling like I’m going to be a Laker for the rest of my life, I just met this beautiful woman that I just see the world the same way with.”
It was “love at first sight,” Vanessa echoed in a November 2020 Instagram post.
Their love story continued for the next two decades, with the couple welcoming four daughters — Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri — over the years. And when the five-time NBA champion retired from basketball in 2016, Kobe was most looking forward to being able to spend more time with his wife and daughters.
That time together would be tragically cut short, however: On Jan. 26, 2020, Kobe and his daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of seven other individuals.
“This pain is unimaginable [but] you just have to get up and push forward,” she told PEOPLE in March 2021. “Lying in bed crying isn’t going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again. But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that’s what I do.”
From their first meeting to how their love lives on today, here’s everything to know about Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's romance over the years.
They met on the set of Kobe’s music video in 1999
In the summer of 1999, Vanessa — then a 17-year-old high school student from Orange County, California. — was recruited to appear in hip hop music videos, per the Los Angeles Times. With her mother chaperoning her on set, she worked as a backup dancer or extra in music videos for artists including Snoop Dogg, Krayzie Bone and the hip-hop group Tha Eastsidaz. Then, in November 1999, Vanessa was hired to appear in a music video for Kobe — who, at the time, was working on his debut hip-hop album.
“For those that don’t know, yes, I had a budding music career as a rapper,” Kobe recalled in Kobe Bryant’s Muse. “It didn’t last long, but I did make a video. On the video set is where I first met Vanessa.”
Kobe, who was 21 at the time, was immediately smitten with Vanessa, he revealed in the documentary.
“It was a two-day video shoot, and I was always looking for her, like I wanted to know where she was. I would finish a take and go to my trailer but I would wonder where she was the entire time,” he remembered. “Then I would come out of the trailer and just wanted to talk to her some more, in between takes and stuff like that.”
In November 2023, Vanessa shared a throwback photo of her and Kobe from that video shoot on her Instagram, commemorating the 24th anniversary of the day they first met.
“24 years ago…. Day 1. #1999 👑❤️ 11/27/99,” she captioned the sweet snapshot.
Kobe and Vanessa shared a love for Disney
Kobe eventually asked Vanessa for her number, and the two would spend hours on the phone getting to know one another, the NBA legend shared in Kobe Bryant’s Muse. One of the things they bonded over during those conversations was their shared love for all things Disney.
“She was just beautiful. We literally did everything together. Everything together. And I thought I was a big dork because I loved Disneyland,” Bryant said in the documentary. “I loved the Disney movies and things like that, but I never really had a chance to go to the park much. She was a big Disney fan, too, and we used to hang out at Disneyland, we used to go to Magic Mountain, she became my best friend.”
Their love for Disney continued as their relationship progressed — with the couple even celebrating the 20th anniversary of when they first met at the California theme park.
“On this day 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant,” Kobe wrote on Instagram in November 2019, along with a photo of the two in front of Cinderella’s castle. “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.”
They revealed their engagement on Vanessa’s 18th birthday
Kobe and Vanessa’s relationship quickly became serious. In addition to dates at Disneyland, Kobe would send roses to Vanessa at her school, Marina High in Huntington Beach, California, and pick her up in his black Mercedes — often causing a commotion at the southern California high school, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Their relationship became such a disruption that Vanessa was forced to finish her senior year at home.) Within six months of their initial meeting, Kobe proposed to Vanessa — and the young couple announced their engagement at her 18th birthday party on May 5, 2000.
“We decided to get married, I proposed and she said yes. We’re both so young, right?” Kobe said of their whirlwind romance in Kobe Bryant’s Muse. “We’d wake up and do what kids do. I’d take her to the batting cage, go hit some balls, we’d play miniature golf, go to the movies, go out to eat, it was just a beautiful time, man.”
Kobe and Vanessa were married less than a year later, on April 18, 2001, at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California. Only about 12 people attended the private ceremony, per the Los Angeles Times.
Kobe and Vanessa had four daughters together
The couple welcomed four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri.
Their eldest child, Natalia Diamante, was born Jan. 19, 2003, followed by Gianna Marie on May 1, 2006. Gianna, who also went by Gigi, shared her father’s love of basketball and had dreams of playing in the WNBA. In his retirement, Kobe coached Gigi’s basketball team at the Mamba Sports Academy, the training center that he opened. The two were headed there when they were killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Gigi was just 13 years old.
Before her death, Gianna had plans to continue her father’s legacy with her own basketball career.
“[Gianna] will be standing next to me, and [fans] will be like, ‘You gotta have a boy ... you gotta have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,’ ” Kobe told Jimmy Kimmel about his protege in 2018. “And she's like, ‘Oh! I got this. Don’t need no boy for that! I got this.’ ”
After Gigi was born, a 10-year gap passed before Kobe and Vanessa welcomed their third daughter, Bianka Bella, on Dec. 5, 2016. Their fourth daughter, Capri Kobe, arrived on June 20, 2019 — just six months before Kobe and Gigi died.
With four daughters, Kobe celebrated being a girl dad — despite facing “teasing” over not having a son.
“My friends say, ‘It takes a real man to make a boy,’ ” the athlete told Extra. “I’m like, ‘Dude, it takes a king to make a princess ... get in line.’ ”
He added, “It’s pretty cool for me ’cause it’s Daddy’s little princesses.”
Kobe often showered Vanessa with memorable gifts
Throughout their relationship, Kobe frequently surprised Vanessa with over-the-top gifts.
One such present came in July 2003, when Kobe gave Vanessa a $4-million, 8-carat purple diamond ring. Kobe also once gifted Vanessa with the dress that the character Carrie Bradshaw wore during the series finale of Sex and the City. She recalled the romantic gesture on her Instagram in July 2020.
“I found this beautiful dress Kob gifted me a long time ago,” she wrote over two side-by-side photos, one of the dress and another of Sarah Jessica Parker wearing the dress in the episode. “Not going to lie, I was taken back with emotion. He was SO romantic.”
In the caption, she added: “When Mr. Big gets Carrie back … You set the bar so high baby. No love like REAL LOVE.”
But one of his most romantic gifts came in the form of another famous dress. Kobe once gave Vanessa the blue dress that Rachel McAdams wore in The Notebook, she revealed during the powerful memorial held for her late husband and daughter in February 2020.
“When I asked him why he chose the blue dress [from the movie], he said it was because it’s the scene when Allie comes back to Noah,” Vanessa said during her emotional speech. “We had hoped to grow old together like [in] the movie. We really had an amazing love story.”
She added, “He was truly the romantic one in our relationship ... We loved each other with our whole beings, two perfectly imperfect people making a beautiful family and raising our sweet and amazing girls."
Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020
On Jan. 26, 2020, the Bryant family was faced with an unspeakable tragedy when Kobe and Gianna were killed in a horrific helicopter crash — along with seven other members of their close-knit California community. Kobe was 41 years old; Gianna was just 13.
The group was on their way to a youth basketball game at Kobe’s Mamba Training Center in Thousand Oaks, California. At around 10 a.m., just shy of an hour after take-off, the helicopter crashed into a mountain, killing everyone on board.
Vanessa first spoke about Kobe and Gianna’s deaths on Instagram, just days after the crash.
“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,” the grieving wife and mother wrote alongside a family picture.
She added, “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.”
Vanessa got a tattoo in honor of Kobe after he died
Following Kobe’s death, Vanessa memorialized her late husband in ink. She had a message written by Kobe tattooed down the side of her neck in February 2020 — though she didn’t reveal the tribute until June of that same year when she shared several videos of the process to her Instagram.
“I wanted my boo boo’s @kobebryant sweet message transferred on me,” she wrote in the caption.
Vanessa also had Hurtado tattoo a message from Gianna on her wrist, saying, “So happy I can see my Gigi’s handwriting everyday."
While Vanessa shared videos of her receiving both tattoos on her social media, she did not reveal what each message said. However, in 2021, Vanessa unveiled a second tattoo in Gianna’s honor: “Mambacita,” a tribute to the budding basketball star’s nickname.
Vanessa accepted Kobe’s NBA Hall of Fame honor on his behalf in May 2021
Before his tragic death, Kobe was looking forward to being honored as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — but he never got the chance to attend his induction ceremony. Vanessa, however, stood in his place and accepted the NBA legend’s award on his behalf at the May 2021 ceremony.
“I wish my husband was here to accept this incredible award,” Vanessa said following Michael Jordan’s introduction. “He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this. Gigi would be so proud to watch her daddy get enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. I know Kobe was looking forward to being here. He asked the Hall of Fame to specifically add a sixth ticket for Capri, he was so happy.”
In the moving speech, Vanessa went on to highlight Kobe’s decorated NBA career (describing his basketball talents as “on a different level”), his accomplishments off the court (including becoming the first professional athlete to win an Oscar in 2018) and how he shined as “the very best girl dad.” She also spoke about Kobe’s dedication as a husband, reading aloud a letter she wrote to him thanking him for everything during their two decades of marriage.
“Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you can possibly be," Vanessa read, adding, "Thank you for loving me enough to last lifetimes, and every lifetime I choose you.”
Vanessa works tirelessly to keep Kobe’s memory and legacy alive
Since Kobe and Gianna’s deaths, Vanessa has dedicated herself to carrying on their legacies.
The mother of four took over Granity Studios, Kobe’s multimedia company, and saw to it that any unfinished creative projects were completed. Vanessa also relaunched Kobe’s charitable nonprofit as the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation, with the mission of helping empower young girls and funding programs for athletes in underserved communities. The nonprofit’s work, which continues to elevate the playing field for girls’ sports, was a vision Kobe had championed while he was alive — and Vanessa continues to carry the torch in his memory. Additionally, Vanessa pushed for federal lawmakers to pass a helicopter safety act to prevent a tragedy like Kobe and Gianna’s from occurring again.
Vanessa also designed the latest Kobe Bryant sneakers from Nike. The Kobe 8 Protro Halos were imagined and created by Vanessa in her husband’s honor, and released on what would have been Kobe’s 45th birthday, Aug. 23, 2023. She also indicated on Instagram that more Kobe 8 designs are on the horizon.
“Happy birthday, baby. I love you always & forever. ❤️ #82378,” Vanessa wrote on Instagram on Kobe’s 45th birthday, with the hashtag referencing his birthdate and an old snapshot of the couple.
But in all of her endeavors, both personal and professional, Vanessa revealed that it is the memory of Kobe and Gianna that inspires her.
“Kobe and Gigi motivate me to keep going,” the widow told PEOPLE in March 2021. “They inspire me to try harder and be better every day. Their love is unconditional and they motivate me in so many different ways.”
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