ATHENS — Tears were shed around the globe as news spread of the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the life of 18 NBA all-star Kobe Bryant and eight others in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday morning.
Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold-medalist Dawn Staley heard the news shortly before tipoff of her No. 1-ranked team’s game at Georgia.
“Now we get more details, it’s horrific for Kobe; since he retired, he dedicated his life to his little girl and her career in basketball,” Staley said, referencing 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, who was among those killed in the crash.
Bryant was traveling to basketball practice at the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks with his daughter, “GiGi” and seven others when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed amid the foggy conditions some 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
In addition to enjoying post-NBA success as an author, producer and Academy Award winner, Bryant was also coaching his daughter’s AAU team five times a week, per “SLAM” basketball magazine.
Bryant’s basketball skills and competitive fire helped transcend the game, an example for players of both sexes to work to emulate.
Staley and Georgia coach Joni Taylor pointed out how Bryant had also elevated the women’s game and provided much-needed support.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t get a chance to see him coach any more, to see him impact girls’ lives,” Staley said. “He just talked about WNBA players being able to play in the NBA.”
Indeed, just last Thursday, Bryant said WNBA players could “keep up” when asked if one day women could play in the NBA.
“I think there are a couple of players that could play in the NBA right now, honestly,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of players that have a lot of skill that could do it. Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Delle Donne, there’s a lot of great players out there. They could most certainly keep up with them.”
Kobe Bryant says there’s WNBA players that could play in the NBA right now, including Diana Taurasi, Elena Delle Donne & Maya Moore!
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 22, 2020
Staley fought to keep her emotions in check as she put the importance of Bryant’s in perspective.
“We need more people like Kobe Bryant sticking up for women’s basketball,” she said. “He did it at the highest level, and we’re prayerful. Godspeed to his family and all of us who had a connection to him.”
Taylor said she didn’t personally know Bryant, but like most every other player associated with the sport, she was influenced by him.
“You grow up watching him, he just means so much not only to the game of basketball, but to the game of women’s basketball,” Taylor said. “He was a fan, he was at the Final Four, his daughters played.
“He supported college basketball, the WNBA, all levels. He was a champion for us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley
Georgia coach Joni Taylor
SEC Network Twitter
— Mike Uva (@Mike_Uva) January 26, 2020