Vanessa Bryant’s Touching Gift to John Calipari Honors Her Late Daughter, Gigi
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John Calipari posted to social media about a package he received from the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation ahead of what would have been Gianna "Gigi" Bryant's 17th birthday.
The package included a plaque commemorating Gigi's birthday, and a program from her memorial service.
Calipari had a history with Gigi's dad, Kobe Bryant, going all the way back to the 1996 NBA draft.
Gifts can be a lot of things. They can be symbols of appreciation. They can be expressions of gratitude. And in some cases, they can help keep alive the memory of someone we lost too soon.
It's hard to believe that it's already been three years since the world lost Kobe and Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, along with seven others, in a horrific helicopter crash in January 2020. For those who knew the Bryants, the tragedy has been assuredly difficult to process, but it has inspired them to find ways to help the legacy of Kobe and Gigi endure and to encourage the next generation. That's what led to the creation of the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, which seeks to help "underserved athletes and boys & girls in sports."
The foundation also took the time to send a touching gift to the University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari, who has had a long history with the Bryant family, ahead of what would have been Gigi's 17th birthday.
I just received the most incredible gift from Vanessa and Natalia Bryant.
Happy 17th birthday, Gigi!!
Thinking today of Gigi and all of the lives she touched and continues to touch!!#PlayGigisWay pic.twitter.com/mruCZIFaop
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) May 1, 2023
The package, which Calipari unpacked on social media, included a plaque commemorating Gigi's birthday, a program from the memorial service for her and her father, shoes, a jersey, and more. Calipari intends to frame and hang Gigi's jersey in his office.
ESPN notes that last year, Calipari and Kentucky partnered with the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation to "create a skills camp for underserved youth in Kentucky." Their report also digs into the history between the longtime coach and the late Kobe Bryant.
"Kobe and Calipari are forever linked because of the 1996 NBA draft," ESPN notes. "At the time, Calipari was a first-year head coach with the New Jersey Nets and Kobe was a promising high school star."
"The Nets, who had the eighth pick in 1996, selected former Villanova star Kerry Kittles in that draft and Bryant went to the Los Angeles Lakers at 13. Calipari said he'd pushed for the team to pick Kobe, but he couldn't get the other power brokers within the franchise to back him. Calipari said Kobe would later joke with him that he'd "still be in the NBA" if the Nets had selected him."
It's hard now to believe that people couldn't see how special Kobe Bryant was in his younger days, but five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, and even an Academy Award later, Kobe's exceptional talent is undeniable. That Gigi Bryant's life was tragically cut short, before she could have shown the world all she surely had to offer, is a heartbreak from which those that knew her may never fully recover. But people like Coach Calipari, and organizations like the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, intend to honor her memory as best they can.
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