Days after the tragic helicopter crash that killed NBA superstar, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, friends, family, and fans remain in shock. Among those grieving are Kobe’s parents, Joe and Pam, with whom he had a complicated relationship. Here’s how they’re dealing with the loss of their son and granddaughter.
Kobe Bryant was estranged from his parents for awhile
Lakers icon, Kobe Bryant, found his love of basketball through his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. Joe began with the Philadelphia 76ers, the SanDiego (now Los Angeles) Clippers, and finally, the Houston Rockets. He later coached the WNBA.
Though Joe didn’t reach the level Kobe did, he set the path that Kobe would not only follow, but take to unprecedented levels. Kobe’s mother, Pam, also had NBA in her bloodline. Her brother, Chubby Cox, played with the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in the ’80s.
Joe’s career is what took Pam, Kobe, and Kobe’s two sisters to Italy, paving the way for Kobe’s dream. By the time Kobe met and fell in love with Vanessa, he and his parents had come to a stalemate.
Kobe, who was 21 at the time, became engaged to Vanessa when she was just 17. Speculation suggests the divide was partially due to Vanessa’s Hispanic heritage. They did not attend Kobe and Vanessa’s wedding, further separating themselves from Kobe’s life.
Kobe’s familial issues ran deep
However, problems between Kobe, Pam and Joe goe a lot deeper. Previously, Player’s Tribune published a letter to his younger self following Kobe’s final game where he touched on “the challenges of mixing blood with business” and the “anger, resentment, and jealousy” it can cause.
The insinuation pointed to a 2013 incident that involved Joe and Pam auctioning off some of Kobe’s career memorabilia which included Lakers championship rings and high school uniforms. In turn, Kobe filed a lawsuit blocking the sale but they settled out of court.
Three years later in 2016, after Kobe’s jersey numbers were retired, neither Pam nor Joe attended and Kobe didn’t thank them during his speech. Kobe later told ESPN about the contentious relationship calling it “s**t, saying he suffered a lot of “tears and heartache, some of which remains to this day.”
“I say ‘I’m going to buy you a very nice home,’ and the response is, ‘That’s not good enough?’ Then you’re selling my s**t?” he said.
Their relationship in recent years was a work in progress
Though Joe and Pam cut ties in 2001, around the time of Kobe and Vanessa’s wedding, they originally reconnected after the birth of Kobe and Vanessa’s first daughter in 2003. Joe told the Orlando Sentinel about his plans to meet his granddaughter, but Kobe hadn’t personally heard the news.
“Sure, I hope we can get back together,” Kobe said. “When the time is right, if he wants to come and sit down and discuss things, we can do that.”
Their relationship improved, for the most part, though they still had much to work through. Close friend, Wayne Slappy, told the Daily Mail he witnessed the two in a private moment during a basketball camp in Santa Barbara.
“I just remember seeing him hug his dad. You know how they loved each other from how they looked at each other, how they smiled,” Slappy said.
“Everybody’s family has issues, disagreements here and there. The healing comes, but this healing is going to be hard because he’s not here.”
That hug between Kobe and his father may not have mended everything that’s happened, but it was the start of, what could’ve been, a new beginning.
Slappy compared the loss to ‘a black hole’
While the whole world grieves the loss of the Lakers legend, the Bryant family feels it to the core.
“Can you imagine a black hole? It’s empty, how do you fill it? They’re a close-knit family,” Slappy said.
“He was 41 years old, and then his daughter dies in an accident with him, too. His family is going to miss him more than you can begin to imagine. I know NBA players whose kids can’t stand them, they never spent any time with them. That ain’t Kobe”
He continued: “He grew up with his family loving each other. He was doing the same thing his father did for him, for his daughters, to the best of his ability.”
According to the Daily Mail, a neighbor said Joe and Pam have been too heartbroken to comment.
“I talked to them twice yesterday and took over food and a card, and briefly today, they are just devastated, as you can imagine,’ the neighbor said.
“It’s a private, awful moment, losing their son and grand-daughter, it’s just horrific. I was talking to Joe briefly the day before, we were out for a walk, it was all happy and good and talking about the gorgeous weather and then it switched in 24 hours where their lives were turned upside down.”
Vanessa recently took to social media for the first time to thank those who’ve reached out. There’s been no formal comment from Joe or Pam, but understandably, it will come in due time. For now, the family is still processing the devastating loss of not only their NBA star but young Gianna as well.
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