Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were on minds of many as the UConn women’s basketball team took on Team USA Monday night.
The basketball icon and his daughter were among nine people killed when a Sikorsky S-76B crashed in Calabasas, California Sunday.
It was well-known that Gianna hoped to become a Husky one day. The team honored her with a special seat, tweeting “Mambacita is forever a Husky.”
UConn had flowers on its bench in front of a No. 2 jersey for Gianna, who Kobe had said was "hellbent" on attending the school. The coaching staffs wore gold and purple ribbons.
So many of the women on Team USA, which is full of former UConn greats, had a connection to Kobe Bryant, whether it was knowing him personally or watching him growing up and admiring his skill and discipline.
“In my time in my life I don’t know that there’s ever been a tragedy like this… somebody so young who had such a huge impact on so many. In that regard obviously it’s incredibly sad but just mind-blowing to see,” said Sue Bird of Team USA.
“It’s just unthinkable that just like that it could all go away. It makes you appreciate everything you have, the family, the opportunities you get, and you’ve got to take advantage of them,” Diana Taurasi added.
For the women of Team USA, Bryant’s death is a devastating blow to the sports world, but also to their lives personally, because they each have a Kobe story.
Bryant helped Taurasi coin her nickname on the court – White Mamba – after his Black Mamba moniker from the powerful snake with precise venomous strikes, mirroring the attitude the two shared about the game and fierce spirit of competition.
“We spoke the same language. I think we played with a violence that we both understood. There was just common ground that was unapologetic. We would just do it all for the game. I’ll always take that with me,” she said.
Breanna Stewart said she would wear Bryant’s number at Monday night’s game, honoring his memory.
“It’s just a shock and I think it’s kind of crazy. He was one of the first people that reached out to me once I ruptured my Achilles. He texted me right once I landed back in LA, which is kind of, anything I need let him know, I’ll get through it. Supporting me throughout the entire process back,” Stewart said.
“He was just world-class and my first interaction with Kobe was in the 2012 Olympics. Just coming across him and just him making time just to say hi and speak to my mother and the other players that were on the team, just his work ethic,” Tina Charles added.
For Katie Lou Samuelson, the tragedy hits close to home. The California native knew Bryant well and said the basketball legend made it a point to know up-and-coming players too.
“He truly loved it and he truly took his time out to make connections with players. He didn’t have to do that. He’s done everything in the world. He’s accomplished anything that anyone wanted to do, and **he really wanted to build and help create a better future for women’s sports and for those girls,” Samuelson said.
Bryant’s passing is made all the more tragic for the women of Team USA because he was such a fan of women’s basketball.