The wife of the late Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant (née Laine), met the legendary athlete while she was working as a background model on the set of a 2002 music video, according to People. From there, their courtship was followed by engagement, a low-key wedding, and four children — Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri Bryant.
While Kobe Bryant’s high-profile career meant his face was plastered on countless television screens and magazine covers, Vanessa rarely gives interviews or takes center stage. Unfortunately, her relative low media profile served as a sharp contrast to when she shared the spotlight with Kobe as he admitted to committing adultery and faced sexual assault charges in December 2003. Of course, there’s much more to Vanessa than how she responded to that one ugly incident in her marriage. Vanessa and Kobe’s relationship held strong and as they focused on family, raising their daughters, and forging a lasting legacy on the court and off it.
Unfortunately, Vanessa will face the toughest challenges of her life as she copes with the tragic death of her husband and their daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020. Let’s take a closer look at the untold truth of this tremendous woman.
As a senior at Marina High School, news that Vanessa Bryant was dating one of the L.A. Lakers’ star players sent shockwaves through the campus. According to the Los Angeles Times, a television helicopter was seen flying over the school in an attempt to capture images of the then-high school student and her A-list beau. It was also reported that Vanessa skipped out on her prom and had to finish her education through homeschooling “because of the notoriety,” her grandfather, Robert Laine, told the newspaper.
In a quest to gather up more information on the brunette teen who had captured Kobe’s heart, the Times even interviewed some of her classmates, including a student named Graham Finochio who said the buzz around campus was that Kobe was sending “flowers and stuff” to some “chick.”
Some chatter from harmless teens was nothing. Once Vanessa and Kobe decided to get married, that’s when their lives really got flipped upside down.
Kobe Bryant confirmed after one of his basketball practices that he was engaged to a high school senior Vanessa Bryant, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000. Vanessa was only 18 years old at the time of their wedding, while Kobe was 22. They were young, and, as such, many people probably thought they were doomed from the start, but Vanessa and Kobe proved to the world that they were serious about the life-long commitment they were choosing to embark on. An insider told People a year following their 2001 wedding that Vanessa and Kobe were “very close and very devoted to one another,” adding that Vanessa had even gotten over her fear of flying to travel to Kobe’s high school in Lower Merion, Pa. to his jersey retirement ceremony.
But her dedication to her husband and their marriage would be put to the test just a couple of years later.
A little over two years after getting married, Kobe Bryant’s wife’s hopes and dreams of a perfect union were shattered when her husband was accused of sexually assaulting a Colorado hotel employee in 2003. Kobe Bryant appeared in a now-infamous televised news conference with a stoic — yet visibly defeated — Vanessa Bryant by his side.“You’re my backbone. You’re a blessing. You’re a piece of my heart. You’re the air I breathe,” Kobe told Vanessa as tears rolled down his face (via People). “And you’re the strongest person I know, and I’m so sorry for having to put you through this and having to put our family through this.”
The criminal case against Kobe Bryant was dropped in September 2004 after the alleged victim refused to testify, the Los Angeles Times reported. Kobe eventually settled a civil lawsuit with his accuser out of court, but the scandal continued to affect Vanessa’s life. In the Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse (via New York Daily News), Kobe revealed that Vanessa had been pregnant but suffered a miscarriage in early 2005. Kobe blamed himself for the loss, stating that Vanessa was dealing with too much stress in connection to the sexual assault allegations. “We should be building our family,” he said. “But because of my mistake, because of this tough year, we lost a baby.”
As the wife of a basketball legend, Vanessa Bryant was reportedly treated like royalty around the Lakers’ arena, the Staples Center. During a revealing interview with The Cut — when Kobe Bryant was still on the Lakers’ roster — Vanessa noted that she enjoyed elite “access” around the venue that other players’ wives weren’t blessed with. In particular, the tunnel where the team would enter and exit the basketball court is typically off-limits for most significant others. “If you notice, I am the only one allowed in that tunnel,” she said. There’s a good reason for that.
Vanessa said she was granted access because she didn’t like giving Kobe a smooch after his games “in front of all the cameras,” so she was allowed to hide out in the tunnel to “get away from [the cameras].”
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant brought four beautiful daughters into this world, with their last kiddo, Capri, arriving in June 2019. Some fans might have assumed the couple was done with having children, but Kobe left the door open for having another in a March 2019 interview with Extra. “I think she wants a boy more than I do. I love having girls — I’m super, super excited about that. She is as well,” he said. “She wanted a boy so he can be mama’s boy forever — that sort of thing. We’ll see if I can deliver, I don’t know.” He also quipped, “She’s like, ‘You go see if you can hit a clutch shot. You gave me all the girls, let’s see if you can bring a boy!’ Nope, not yet. We’ll see.”
Kobe was clearly in awe of Vanessa as a mom. “We love you and thank you for all that you do for our family,” the athlete penned to his wife on Mother’s Day 2019. “You are the foundation of all that we hold dear.”
Just 18 days before Kobe Bryant’s tragic death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, he stopped by the All The Smoke podcast to chat about his career and personal life. When asked about how he kept his marriage strong throughout the couple’s ups and downs, Kobe boiled it down to two important components: “Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed.’” He added, “That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that.”
The dad-of-four also hinted that there were still rough patches with Vanessa Bryant, using a funny anecdote to get his point across. “We’ve seen couples that have been like 85 years old and you look and you’re like, ‘Oh man, such an old, sweet couple,’ and I’d go talk to them because I wanna know…,” he shared. “One time a guy goes, ‘Yeah it’s great, but she just kicked me out of the bed last night, I was sleeping on the couch last two nights.’ And I’m like, ‘It doesn’t change.’”
The bottom line? Vanessa and Kobe were committed to their marriage.
As the tragic news emerged about Kobe and Gianna “Gigi” Bryant’s deaths on Jan. 26, 2020, supporters took to social media to express their love for Vanessa Bryant.
“I can’t stop thinking about Vanessa Bryant, who was with Kobe longer than she was without him in her life, who has an infant child and two other young daughters, and who will have to bear this memory anew when each remaining daughter tries to reconcile this tragedy,” writer and critic Rebecca Shuri tweeted.
Singer Ciara said, “Praying for Vanessa and the Bryant family at this sad and difficult time.”
It’s unfathomable what Vanessa is going through at the moment, but it’s obvious she’ll have a huge team of supporters to see her through these difficult times. We hope the mom-of-four will find the inspiration she needs to move forward. She already knows what it means to persevere in hard times. As she wrote in a note to Kobe following his retirement from basketball in 2016, “You’ve always pushed through it because you played for those fans who sacrificed so much to see you play in person.”
On Sunday, Jan. 26, the sports world was shaken by the loss of legendary NBA player Kobe Bryant. Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., along with what is believed to be seven other passengers and the pilot, per TMZ. The tab also reported that 13-year-old Gianna Maria Onore, one of Bryant’s four daughters, and John Altobelli, a baseball coach, were aboard the fatal flight. The cause of the crash remains undetermined, but an investigation is reportedly underway.
While a lot of details have not been disclosed just yet, one thing is clear: Fellow athletes, celebrities, politicians, and more are coming together to mourn the loss of the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker.