Derek Jeter paid tribute to his dear friend, Kobe Bryant, 41, by writing a phenomenal essay just hours after his untimely death on January 26. Rather than writing about Kobe’s career accomplishments, the MLB legend, 45, focused on Kobe the family man, who deeply loved his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and daughters, including 13-year-old Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, who died along with him in the helicopter crash. “Kobe just loved being a dad,” Derek wrote in his essay in The Player’s Tribune. “And when it comes to his legacy, I really hope we’re able to take the time to remember that as an essential part of it.”
While they could’ve spent hours talking about basketball and baseball, Derek said the conversations he and Kobe had about his daughters — Gigi, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and newborn Capri — were the ones he would remember the most. “Here was this guy who was beyond gifted as an athlete, who was obsessed with being a champion, who was known as an absolute assassin with a ball in his hands,” Derek wrote. “He cared much more about being a husband to Vanessa and a dad to his girls. He loved his family — he was his family. That’s what was important. And that’s the Kobe I’ll remember.”
Kobe’s moments with Gigi were particularly poignant to Derek. Kobe was infinitely proud of his daughter, who declared that she would carry on his legacy by playing in the NBA. Kobe and Gigi were on the way to her basketball practice at Mamba Sports Academy in Sherman Oaks, California, when their helicopter crashed. All other passengers onboard the helicopter died: Gianna’s teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, Alyssa’s parents, John Altobelli and Keri Altobelli, Payton’s mom, Sarah Chester, Gianna’s basketball coach, Christina Mauser, and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan.
“I’ve seen [Kobe] win gold medals and championship rings. But I’ve still never seen him look as happy, in those big moments on the court, as he looked the other day off of it: with an arm around Gigi, sitting courtside, and just….. talking,” Derek wrote. “Yeah, sure, talking hoops — but you got the feeling in those moments that he would have been content talking about anything.”