'I carry Kobe and Gigi with me every day': Sabrina Ionescu honors their legacy one year later

Sabrina Ionescu pledged to live out Kobe Bryant’s legacy and found inspiration in the lives of his daughter, Gianna, and her teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester.

One year after their deaths, she reflected on the loss and how she honors their legacies.

Ionescu honors legacies of Kobe, Gigi

Ionescu, 23, counted Bryant as a mentor and close friend. While working out with Bryant in Los Angeles ahead of her senior season at Oregon she twice helped coach the Mamba Ballers, the team 13-year-old Gianna played for with Alyssa and Payton.

The New York Liberty point guard remains close with the Bryant family: Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri. She shared how she honors their legacies in a statement to Yahoo Sports:

I carry Kobe and Gigi with me every day and honor their legacies through my dedication to the game. I wake up every day grateful for the platform I’ve been given and I strive to lead by example and serve as a role model for young people and especially girls to pursue sports — a platform Kobe and Gigi were passionate about. I saw the way he supported his family and his constant advocacy for women’s basketball. His encouragement and promotion of equality in sports along with his Mamba Mentality is what motivates me today.

Ionescu was minutes away from taking the court for a rivalry game against Oregon State when she learned of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. All nine who were on board en route to a Mamba Academy basketball game died in the accident. Ionescu wore “Forever 24 <3” on her sneakers for Bryant’s jersey number with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ionescu says she’ll live out Bryant’s legacy

Sabrina Ionescu.
Sabrina Ionescu is living out Bryant's legacy. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Ionescu honored Bryant and the teenagers on Instagram in the days after the crash, calling Bryant her “mentor, idol inspiration, and close friend.”

“You took me under your wing and believed in me more than I believed in myself,” she wrote. “I only have one choice. To live out your legacy. You will forever live through me, and be watching over me every step of the way, because you have the best seat in the house.”

The same day she memorialized her mentor in a celebration of life at Staples Center, she became the first player in Division I college basketball history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career.

Weeks later, Ionescu’s senior year and prime shot at an NCAA national championship was cut short when the NCAA tournament was canceled because of COVID-19. In May she was the No. 1 overall pick by the Liberty, but had her rookie season cut short with a Grade 3 ankle sprain in her third professional game.

The triple-double queen appears ready to return to the court even stronger in 2021 and considered playing overseas during the WNBA offseason. The Liberty have the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft held in May. Her status alone has brought new fans to the league.

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