Diana Taurasi says Gianna Bryant represents the future of women's basketball in touching tribute

There was no shortage of moving tributes delivered to Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who both died unexpectedly in a helicopter crash that took a total of nine lives. During a “Celebration of Life” memorial that aired live on TV from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, several people closest to the Bryants, including Phoenix Mercury and WNBA player Diana Taurasi, spoke to the late athlete’s legacy on and off the court. 

“I am the White Mamba,” Taurasi proclaimed when she first stepped up to the podium. She was making reference to the nickname Bryant gave her after the two players grew close after years of playing basketball together. 

“I first would like to offer my deepest condolences,” she said before recalling being a young, aspiring player herself who would watch Bryant on TV and hope to be as great of a player as him. “He made it OK to play with an edge.”

Years later, while competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Taurasi remembered what it was like to see and work alongside Bryant in person. “I learned firsthand it wasn’t limited to the basketball court,” she said of his tenacity and greatness. “Kobe’s willingness to do the hard work... inspired me and resonated with the city of Los Angeles.”

Taurasi then turned her attention to Bryant’s daughter, whom she referred to as “Gigi” throughout her touching tribute. “Her skill was undeniable at a very young age,” she said, adding that “her curiosity about the game that pushed her to pick up the basketball every day... Every weekend was a new adventure.” 

“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi continued, praising the young athlete’s ambition and skills on the court. “Her skill would command respect.”

Taurasi then fought back tears as she recalled a moment with Gigi after a game. “I’ll always remember the look on Gigi’s face. It was a look of excitement. It was a look of belonging. A look of fierce determination,” she said, adding: “We promise to carry on Gigi’s legacy.”

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Celebration of life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa Bryant arrives to speak during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Former NBA player Michael Jordan cries while speaking during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Shaquille O'Neal speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Alicia Keys reacts after performing during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Vanessa Bryant speaks during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Christina Aguilera performs during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Former Los Angeles Laker Metta World Peace attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Former coach Phil Jackson attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LL Cool J, middle, watches during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Kobe Bryant's parents Joe and Pam Bryant arrive for a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Kobe Bryant's parents Joe and Pam Bryant arrive for a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: TV personality Jimmy Kimmel speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: TV personality Jimmy Kimmel speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
People arrive to attend the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Jerry West and Steve Ballmer attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Bill Russell, James Harden and Russell Westbrook attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Vanessa Bryant is helped off the stage by former NBA player Michael Jordan after speaking during a celebration of life for her husband Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Bill Russell attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union attend The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Kareem Abdul Jabar during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez depart after The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Snoop Dogg attends The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant's Lakers jerseys are displayed during the "Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant" service at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on February 24, 2020. - Kobe Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in the rugged hills west of Los Angeles on January 26. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
A mural sits in a parking lot as fans look toward the Staples Center before a public memorial for former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
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Shortly after he died, Taurasi spoke out about her enduring friendship with Bryant and his impact on the sport. “He meant so much to [Los Angeles]. That fighting spirit that he had -- I think everyone had that in them, and he found a way to make that OK for everyone to be that way,” she told ESPN. “We had a common thread -- the way we thought about basketball, the way we played. It wasn't forced, it was a natural relationship.”

In a conversation with CNN, Taurasi said that Bryant’s recognition of women’s basketball was important. “He was just trying to think outside the box and give us that validation, you know, as women's sports and athletes, that we are looking for,” she said, adding: “When you saw him with his daughter and the things that he was doing with different projects. I knew Kobe pretty well and he was a guy that was always moving forward. That's all we can do now is move forward for him.”

In addition to Taurasi, the Celebration of Life memorial also included performances by Beyonce and a speech by Oregon Ducks player Sabrina Ionescu, who also paid tribute to her mentor and his daughter. “Monday’s going to be a difficult day for her to speak at the memorial for Kobe and Gianna, but what a great opportunity and a great privilege and a great honor,” her coach, Kelly Graves, said.

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