Kobe Bryant And Diana Taurasi Shared A Deep Mutual Respect

Melissa Rohlin

Diana Taurasi ends each workout the same way, emulating a move Kobe Bryant used to make.

"Three hard dribbles going right," Taurasi said at Bryant's public memorial on Feb. 24. "Left foot plant, pivot, swing right leg through. Elevate, square up, follow through."

She studied that move until it became her own. She practiced it until it was second nature. Until she embodied Bryant. 

Then in 2014 with 14.3 seconds left and the score tied at 82-82 in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals between the Phoenix Mercury and the Chicago Sky, Taurasi did the move in front of thousands of fans and a national television audience, just as Bryant had done many times. 

"It’s that exact same shot that won us the championship," Taurasi said. 

Taurasi grew up idolizing Bryant. She was raised in Chino, California and religiously watched Lakers games. 

When Bryant was a rookie with the Lakers in 1996, she was a self-proclaimed lanky and awkward freshman at Don Antonio Lugo High, who obsessively practiced shooting in her driveway. 

"On the nights the Lakers played, I wouldn’t miss a second of the game," Taurasi said. "Every timeout, every commercial, I’d run to the front yard to imitate my favorite Laker, Kobe."

Bryant loved basketball the way she did. He both validated her and gave her something to aspire to. 

"He made it okay to play with an edge that borderlined crazy," she said. 

After Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people, Taurasi spoke for nearly five minutes at his public memorial at Staples Center. 

Taurasi talked about how Bryant inspired her to become a three-time WNBA champion, two-time Finals MVP and one-time regular season MVP in 2009. And she talked about how things had come full circle with Gianna. 

After all, Gianna wanted to be like her. 

Gianna wanted to play basketball for the University of Connecticut, where Taurasi led the Huskies to three-straight NCAA championships from 2002-2004.

And Gianna dreamt of playing in the WNBA, where Taurasi holds the all-time leading scoring record with 8,575 points.

After Bryant retired in 2016 following a 20-season career with the Lakers, he started reaching out to Taurasi for coaching tips.  

The woman who had idolized him was now a role model to his daughter. 

Bryant texted Taurasi to ask her what moves she was working on when she was 13 years old. And he brought Gianna to a Mercury practice when they were in Phoenix for an AAU tournament. 

"I always remember the look on Gigi’s face," Taurasi said. "It was a look of excitement. A look at belonging. A look of fierce determination."

Bryant and Taurasi spent time together at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and he respected her so much that he eventually nicknamed her "The White Mamba" after she passed Tina Thompson as the all-time leading scorer in 2017, using that moniker in a congratulatory tweet. 

In an interview with CNN in January, Bryant said, "I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now." He named Taurasi as one of them. 

Bryant believed in her. 

And Taurasi believed in Gianna.

Taurasi said she has no doubts that Gianna would've become a WNBA superstar. 

"Her skill was undeniable at an early age," Taurasi said. "I mean, who has a turnaround fadeaway jumper at 11? LeBron [James] barely got it today."

Taurasi said that even though Gianna wasn't able to realize her dream of playing in the WNBA, she did more for the sport than she'll ever know.

In her short lifetime, she inspired others to unabashedly love the women's game, including her father.  

"Gigi in many ways, represents the future of women’s basketball," she said. "A future where a young woman aspires to play in the WNBA."

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