Why the Loss of Gianna and Kobe Bryant is a Major Wound to the WNBA

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For a sport which fails to garner similar attention to its male counterpart, the WNBA could have had a powerful name like “Bryant” behind it.

When news broke last Sunday afternoon of the untimely death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant, 41, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California, the outpouring from peers, fans, and the media were almost immediate.

Even more heartbreaking news came shortly thereafter, as it was announced that among the nine passengers aboard the Sikorsky S-76B owned by Bryant, all had perished, including Bryant’s 13-year old daughter, Gianna. 

The group, which included six family friends – teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester – as well as parents Keri and John Altobelli, a former baseball coach who worked with the likes of Jeff McNeil and Aaron Judge, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan, were among the additional fatalities that fateful Sunday morning.

Many in the Bryant family circle of trust, including us spectators who heard and saw mere footage of her play, thought that Bryant’s now late-daughter, Gianna, had what it takes to make it to the highest level of women’s professional basketball, the WNBA.

Like her father, Gianna’s drive was what separated her from her peers: “I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gianna shared in a 2019 interview with CBS affiliate KLAS.

Her drive and ambitions further manifested themselves in her desire to play at UCONN, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from her father’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA.

Given the blood she came from and the consensus that she was going to further her skills, the WNBA is worse off in the long run without her in it.

For a sports league which unfortunately fails to garner similar attention to its male counterpart, the WNBA could have the last name “Bryant” sewn onto the back of a jersey, bringing something so powerful and meaningful to the league, that it would’ve (hopefully) changed the perception of WNBA’s popularity.

When gauging a sport’s popularity, it all starts with the players, as they are central to league identity and assert their marketability. Stop a random passerby on the street, regardless of race, or gender, and guarantee they’d be able to list at least five players who played in the NBA.

Now, swap leagues and genders and ask that person or persons the same question in regards to the WNBA. 

Gianna Bryant could’ve been one of those players.

To have backing from one of the greatest players in NBA history given his daughter’s involvement would’ve borne fruits of labor the WNBA had never before seen nor fathomed prior. 

In the wake of his passing, various stories have appeared labeling Bryant as a “girl’s dad,” and why not? With more development’s on the story of the helicopter crash, we find out that Bryant was discovered with Gianna cradled in his arms. 

He died doing what he wanted to do more than anything; being a father.

One quote from Bryant to ESPN’s Ellen Duncan:

“I’d have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”

But with Gianna’s premature passing, all we’re left with now is questions – those of which will never be answered.

How much would she have progressed as a player? How involved would Kobe have been with her future endeavors? What would the state of women’s sports have looked like had she lived?

It seems, now, despite whoever may emerge in the realm of female athletics, while their talent may be unparalleled, there will be no pre-existing legacy attached to them.

With Gianna, she’d be carrying on that of a five-time NBA Champion, an MVP, a Hall of Famer (Bryant is set to be inducted posthumously later this year).

That is where an eternal hole will exist.

Featured image courtesy of NBC News

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