Dear Kobe and Gigi,

I sent you a message letting you know that I would be in LA and asking if I could come to workout, and within hours you responded asking for details of my trip so we could get a workout in.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that you would have ever responded to me, let alone actually invite me to a workout.

When we landed in LA you told me the Mambas were playing. I had heard a lot about Gigi and the girls, but I wanted to check out a game myself.

I was shocked right away by how quiet and relaxed you were while coaching. With that, I was also impressed with all of the girls. I heard that they were newer to AAU but that didn’t stop them from being incredibly skilled and poised in the close game. After a good win, you walked right over and gave me and my mom huge hugs making it seem like you knew us for years.

You were just so normal!

You brought me up to meet the girls after and as much attention and scrutiny they got they were filled with energy and love. I have never seen such a tightknit group of girls in my life. I noticed right away the love they had for each other and their family-like environment.

Then we got to the workouts, they were so detailed, structured and high level. During the workout you took the time to pick apart and fine tune my moves on a level that not many other people can do, while Gigi, being my partner, helped me with learning new moves. After the workouts you hung around to chat with us like you were just an everyday, normal dad.

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I don’t even know where to start. When I first found out, it was before a game and my dad came into the locker room with tears in his eyes. He showed me an article and my heart dropped. My very first thought was “Gigi”. When I later found out you were both on the helicopter… Devastated isn’t even the word.

Gigi: The impact you left with me and so many other people at such a young age is incredible. It’s hard to think that no one will be able to be touched by your big, beautiful smile, hear your infectious laugh, or get to experience your down-to-earth personality. 

I keep thinking about my first workout with you when I was struggling to get the footwork of your dad’s signature shoulder shimmy to a fade away. You had that move PERFECTED. You had to help teach me how to do the footwork correctly. 

Your future was so bright. You would’ve had the best skill set and IQ out of anyone to have ever played the game. Your work ethic and determination were so high. For someone who had so much you didn’t need to have the kind of drive you had. I guess it was just ingrained; it was what you saw every day of your life. Your dad working to be the greatest at anything and everything he touched. I will carry that spirit with me for the rest of my life.

Kobe: People talk about generational players and how they are so rare. You were a generational PERSON, and I don’t think I will ever meet anyone like you again. I looked up to you on the court and off the court. You meant so much to so many people. The lives that you touched and people you helped in your journey goes to show how amazing and inspiring you were.

I become speechless when I think about how you were KOBE BRYANT, you could’ve acted however you wanted but you chose to be someone who touched lives.

After we worked out, you told my mom and I we are part of the Mamba family now. It wasn’t something you said just to say. You meant it. I felt it. I loved how you proved everyone wrong to show people that we are more than just athletes. Not many people realize this but what you were doing for the women’s game was moving. The way you coached your girls and the other high-level athletes you had, and your overall passion for the women’s game was inspiring to the world.

You raised the platform of women’s basketball. You had so many more plans but in that short time you moved the game forward by making it cool to watch and support women and no longer cool for people to make their sexist and negative comments toward the game.

I will do my best to continue to move the game forward, to work hard even when I think I am tired. I will help pass on your passion and fire for the game to anyone and everyone I can. I will never forget our time together and what we lost with that helicopter crash.

My heart goes out to your wife and other daughters. The sadness they must feel... I can’t even think about it without tearing up.

I will smile and laugh and love this game while playing with a Mamba mentality every day I have the privilege of playing it!

Thank you, Kobe and Gigi, for sharing part of your world with me. I will hold you both in my heart forever.

- Azzi