As It Happens

Kobe Bryant's daughter Gianna was his best friend, says L.A. Times columnist

Kobe Bryant loved teaching his 13-year-old girl Gigi all about basketball and believed she would be one of the next great players, says sports writer Arash Markazi.

The basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter died in a helicopter crash on Sunday

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Kobe Bryant loved his family more than anything, but he had a special place in his heart for his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, says L.A. Times sports columnist Arash Markazi.

Markazi covered Bryant throughout his career, and they got to know each other on a personal level after Kobe retired from the NBA in 2016.

During his retirement, the basketball legend was often pictured courtside with Gianna, a.k.a. Gigi, imparting his knowledge about the game they both loved.

Bryant and Gianna both died Sunday, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif. He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three girls, Natalia, Bianca and Capri.

Markazi spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about Bryant's career, his transition from pro-basketball player to full-time family man, as well the darker aspects of his legacy, including the felony sexual assault charge against him that was dropped in 2003. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

What effect did it have on you to learn that Kobe Bryant had been killed in that helicopter crash?

It was tragic. I mean, he was someone that I covered during the course of his 20-year career. He was someone that I got to know a little bit more as a friend in retirement. I knew his family, as well. Gigi, I mean, she was always there with him. I mean, she was always by his side towards the end of his career and in retirement.

So just devastating. Still doesn't seem real. I woke up this morning hoping it was a bad dream, actually.

You have written in your columns about retirement for Kobe Bryant. The speculation was this is not the kind of man who retires. But you found that he found something else in his life. He sort of found himself to be a family man more than ever before. Is that right?

I sat down with him in October, and I said ... "I count on one hand the number of games you've gone to since you've retired in 2016."

And he said, "If go to a game, that's one day that I can't spend with my kids — and I love being with my family, and I love being with my kids."

He lost a lot of those moments during the course of his career just because of the demands of playing.

And so, he said, you know, "They're my focus now."

He wasn't one of these former players who wanted to go on to be a coach or a general manager or a team executive. He wanted to be a father. And he loved the fact that Gianna loved the game that he loved.

He was content leaving it behind. But, Gigi, she took on that passion and they shared that.

Bryant and his daughter Gianna spend time together during the 2016 NBA All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre. (Elsa/Getty Images)

He was very involved with his kids and their sports ambitions, all being girls. What was that all about?

Natalia was a volleyball player and Gianna was a basketball player. And he had two younger daughters that I'm sure would have played something at some point. But he allowed them to go choose whatever sport that they wanted to play. And Gigi was always the one that wanted to play hoops.

Because of Gianna, he began to go to more games and he would sit courtside with her, and they would talk about the game, and they would talk about player movements and adjustments.

She would always ask very specific questions. That was one thing he told me that he loved the questions that he would get from her. So that was [his] best friend. ... He loved his family, but the one person he spent the most time with was Gianna.

We know that he was very ambitious. People say he was stitched together with ambition and ... he didn't make any secret the fact that he wanted to exceed the legendary Michael Jordan. What drove him on the court and in life?

He was the hardest worker that I had ever seen. And you're talking about a player who had God-given ability and talent and things of that nature. But he was always the first one on the court. He was always the first one at practice. I mean, the stories about his practices are legendary. How, you know, before the sun comes up, Kobe's already in the gym and working out and getting in his shots.

Greatness drove him. He wanted to be the best player.

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Shaquille O'Neal at one point called him a showboat, and others said that he dominated the ball. What was his relationship with other players?

That was part of his legacy. You know, I think he had a very high standard and he was very hard on his teammates. And I think not a lot of teammates maybe got to know him personally the way that they would get to know Shaq, for example.

But that was just who he was. He demanded a lot of his teammates. And when you performed well and you met his expectations, there was no doubt that there was no better teammate.

He had controversy in his life too, as you know. There was the charge of felony sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The case was later dropped when the accuser decided not to testify. He settled a civil suit with her out of court. Did you ever talk with him about that?

I covered him that season when he, you know, didn't really comment on that. But that 2003-2004 season where he would, you know, go to the courthouse in Colorado and then get on a plane and play that night or practice that night — it was a very surreal season.

I think he always knew that it would be a part of his story of how he, like, overcame that or got past that was a big turning point or a crossroads in his life and his career.

I will say that the player and the man that I covered toward the end of his career and in retirement was not the same player. I think there was a moment in life where maybe he felt that he was above it all. And I think, listen, being a father, being a husband, you know, changes you.

It was a part of his life that he knew that he could not totally erase. But I think he made it his goal moving forward to kind of re-shape his whole life.

Do you think that having daughters changed his view of what happened in that Colorado hotel room in 2003?

I can't speak to specifically about the hotel room that night in Colorado. But I think having daughters did change him in the way that he behaved, maybe, and just his outlook on life.

I know one of the things that some fans would always tease him about is, like, "When are you going to have a son to like carry on your name?" 

He looked at Gianna one time, and we were together in Las Vegas, and he goes, "She's going to be the one that does that. She's going to be the next great player."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Samantha Lui. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.