Kobe Bryant: Inside His Relationship With Vanessa and Life as a Dad

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Kobe Bryant was not just a legendary basketball player, he was a beloved husband and a father.

The NBA star died in a helicopter car crash in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26 when he was 41 years old. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also in the crash and didn't survive.

Though Kobe was, of course, known for his iconic basketball career, he was first and foremost, a family man. Kobe met his wife, Vanessa, during a music video shoot in 1999 while she was still in high school and he was just 20 years old. They got engaged when she turned 18, and they got married in April 2001. Kobe shared a picture of the day they met on Instagram in April 2013.

"This pic is the day I asked @ladyvb24 for her number 11/28/99," he wrote. "Thru the ups and downs she has been my love and best friend. 20 and 17 yrs old when we met, we have actually grown up together. A true honor and a blessing. Ti Amo Queen Mamba :-)"

Of course, it wasn't exactly a fairy tale. Kobe's parents didn't approve of the wedding and didn't attend the ceremony in Dana Point, California, and remained estranged from their son for years. Then, in 2003, he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado hotel. Kobe admitted he was unfaithful to Vanessa, but vehemently denied sexually assaulting the woman and said their interaction was consensual. The criminal case against him was eventually dismissed when the woman declined to continue with the case, and through it all, Vanessa stood by his side, infamously receiving an eight-carat purple diamond ring worth $4 million after the scandal.

At a press conference held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Vannesa sat by Kobe as he professed his love to her.

"I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery," he said. "I love my wife with all my heart. She’s my backbone."

Kobe Bryant (left) with wife Vanessa at Staples Center press conference.
Kirby Lee/WireImage

But whatever personal issues Kobe and Vanessa may have had, they remained 100 percent committed to their family. Bryant welcomed his eldest child -- now 17-year-old daughter, Natalia -- in 2003. The couple would go on to have three more daughters -- Gianna, 3-year-old Bianka and 7-month-old Capri.

Clearly, Kobe's daughters were his life. He often proudly posted pictures of his kids on Instagram and supported their interests -- whether it be basketball or ballet.

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Mambacita and @azzi35

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Merry Christmas 🙏🏾🎄🎁

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My babies

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My Gigi

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Meanwhile, Kobe and Vanessa hit a rough patch in 2011 when she filed for divorce after a decade of marriage, citing irreconcilable differences. However, by 2013, the divorce was called off.

"We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled," Vanessa wrote on Instagram at the time. "Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together."

Vanessa supported Kobe when he announced he was retiring from the NBA in November 2015.

"I'm so excited to see what God has in store for us as a family now that one chapter is closing and new ones are opening," she shared in a statement.

The couple appeared more in love than ever following their reconciliation. In November, Kobe celebrated the day they met 20 years ago by sharing a throwback photo as well as a current pic of them celebrating on Instagram.

"On this day 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant 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," he wrote.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Kobe addressed being a dad to all his daughters.

"Guys keep teasing me," he told Extra. "My friends say, 'It takes a real man to make a boy.' I’m like, 'Dude, it takes a king to make a princess… get in line.'"

"It's pretty cool for me 'cause it's Daddy's little princesses," he added.

He also talked about Gianna's love of basketball.

"Yeah, she's pretty fierce… She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she just started playing, he said. "Natalia's a great volleyball player and Gianna's great at basketball, great at soccer."

ET spoke with Kobe in December 2018, and he talked about coaching Gianna's middle school basketball team.

"It's been fun!" he exclaimed. "We've been working together for a year and a half and they've improved tremendously in that time. I've got a group of great parents, a group of really, really intelligent, hardworking girls, and -- they're all seventh graders, they're all 12 years old -- but they've been playing so well!"

And Kobe admitted he loved the extra daddy-daughter time with Gianna.

"Gianna's pretty easy to coach," he revealed. "We haven't had any issues of dad-daughter sort of thing. She's very competitive and she's a hard worker, so there haven't been any issues with that."

Just this September, Kobe again addressed being a dad of four daughters during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live and stressed that he couldn't be more content. He noted that Vanessa actually wanted a son more than him.

"I love having girls," he said. "Like, I love it. They're awesome."

He later told a now heartbreaking story about Gianna wanting to carry on his legacy.

"The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me and she'll be standing next to me, and it'll be like, 'And you gotta have a boy. You and V gotta have a boy, have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,'" he shared. "She's like, 'I got this. No boy for that, I got this.'"

Kobe proudly added, "That's right. Yes you do, you got this."

Shortly after Kobe's death, his L.A. Lakers teammate and close friend, Shaquille O'Neal, paid tribute to the late pro athlete as a "family man."

"Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man," O'Neal wrote on Instagram. "That was what we had most in common. We love our families. Whenever we got together I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gianna was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah. I miss you already brother. This is truly unbelievable.  Everyone please keep the Bryants in your prayers. R.I.P."

Derek Jeter also noted that Kobe was above all, a dedicated husband and father, in a heartfelt essay he wrote for The Players' Tribune.

"Here was this guy who was beyond gifted as an athlete, who was obsessed with being a champion, who was known as an absolute assassin with a ball in his hands," he wrote. "And in the moments I got to spend with him? He didn't really talk about any of that. He cared much more about being a husband to Vanessa and a dad to his girls. He loved his family -- he was his family. That's what was important."

"I've seen him win gold medals and championship rings," he continued. "But I've still never seen him look as happy, in those big moments on the court, as he looked the other day off of it: with an arm around Gigi, sitting courtside, and just ... talking. ... Kobe just loved being a dad. And when it comes to his legacy, I really hope we're able to take the time to remember that as an essential part of it."

Gianna and Kobe Bryant at lakers game
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Since Kobe and Gianna's deaths, Vanessa has been mourning her loved ones on Instagram. On Jan. 29, she spoke out about her and her daughters' unfathomable loss.

"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," she wrote in part. "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."

"I'm not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it's impossible to imagine life without them," she continued. "But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless -- and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever."

Vanessa has also shared intimate snippets of the type of relationship she had with Kobe, referring to him as her "best friend" and sharing his nicknames for her.

On Valentine's Day, she posted a sweet photo of her and Kobe.

"To my forever Valentine, I love you so much," she wrote. "Missing you so much on your favorite holiday. Te amo per sempre. Kisses to you and Gigi in heaven. Happy Valentine’s Day, my babies. With all my love, your boo-boo. ❤️song: Tell Him @mslaurynhill."

For more of our last interview with Kobe, watch the video below:

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