WNBA player Skylar Diggins-Smith was overwhelmed with emotion while remembering late basketball player Kobe Bryant, who died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Diggins-Smith, who is hoping to represent Team USA Basketball at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, fought back tears when she discussed the tragedy in an interview with PEOPLE.
“I know everything’s supposed to happen for a reason, I can’t find a reason for that,” the 29-year-old said, noting that as a new mom she especially felt the loss. “I won’t accept that, yet.”
Bryant won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers during his 20-year career and is considered one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball. The 41-year-old was expected to be a first-ballot entry into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year.
For Diggins-Smith, the reality that Bryant will never deliver a Hall of Fame speech is painful.
“All the legends that I know, I can … we can see their Hall of Fame speech, we can talk to them,” she explained. “We got M.J. [Michael Jordan], Dr. J [Julius Erving], Jerry West, and all these people.”
“We can get to see these legends’ [speeches],” she continued, before adding the names of WNBA greats Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo. “I have a hard time swallowing that pill.”
Diggins-Smith is not the only WNBA star to publicly mourn the Lakers legend.
“Every single player had a story they could share about him, so the news — just like for the rest of the world — was a shock to us,” the 25-year-old Team USA player said.
“We just wanna remember the people who lost their lives,” Stewart added. “It’s tragic. To think there were kids involved makes the situation even worse.”
During her appearance on GMA, Stewart remembered how Bryant was always a supporter of the WBNA and shared how the basketball legend previously reached out to her after she ruptured her Achilles tendon — an injury that he suffered in 2013.
“I got hurt overseas in Hungary and I flew direct from Vienna to L.A. When I touched down, I had a message from Kobe just letting me know that he was here for me,” she recalled. “Throughout the entire rehab, he was just someone in my corner.”
Before his death, Bryant regularly appeared at WNBA and women’s college games, which brought much-needed attention to the sport. He also founded the Mamba Sports Academy, a training facility dedicated to providing access to sports for girls and other children.
- With Reporting by Lindsay Kimble