“His focus on kids books and reaching out to kids about basketball was definitely because of his daughters and more specifically Gigi [Gianna],” a former business associate of Bryant’s tells PEOPLE. “He didn’t obviously have boys, but he saw that you didn’t have to be a boy or a girl for him to still have them be a part of the sport and love it.”
“Having kids to get to play the sport was huge for him,” the source adds. “He always said he’d continue the game rather he had a son or a daughter. He was blessed enough to have four daughters and Gigi, God bless her soul, loved the sport.”
“She was actually playing just like him. I just saw video of her playing a couple weeks ago, and she literally did the same exact fade away. Everyone was like ‘That’s Kobe’s girl,'” the source continues.
In a resurfaced interview Bryant, 41, did in 2018 on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the former basketball star opened about how Gianna “for sure” wanted to pursue a career in basketball, just like him.
“The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans come up to me, and she’ll be standing next to me, and they’ll be like, ‘You gotta have a boy, you and [wife Vanessa] gotta have a boy, somebody else to carry on the tradition, the legacy,'” Bryant said.
“She’s like, ‘Oh, I got this. You don’t need a boy for that. I got this.’ I’m like, ‘That’s right, yes you do. You got this,'” he continued.
Earlier this month, the five-time NBA champion — who retired in 2016 — opened up about how he had recently started watching basketball all the time because of Gianna’s interest in the sport.
“Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now that’s she’s into basketball, we watch every night,” he told former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the Showtime Basketball podcast All the Smoke.
Bryant and his daughter also attended several Lakers games before the start of the new year, marking the first time he had been to a game since his jersey was retired in 2017.
“We just had so much fun because it was the first time I was seeing the game through her eyes,” Bryant said of sharing the experience with Gianna.
“It wasn’t me sitting there, you know, as an athlete or a player or something like that, and you know it’s like about me, and I don’t like that,” he continued. “It was her, she was having such a good time.”
Sources told ESPN that the private helicopter Bryant and Gianna were on when it crashed in Calabasas, California was headed to a travel basketball game for Gianna.
Emergency personnel responded to the crash but none of the nine people on board survived, a spokesperson for the LA county sheriff’s office said during a press conference.
Bryant is survived by Vanessa, 37, and their three daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
Spokespersons for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office and LAPD did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.