A letter to Gigi

Gianna Bryant - or Gigi - was the second eldest daughter of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who dreamed of playing college basketball and going to the WNBA.

Tragically those dreams were taken away when 13-year-old Gigi, her father and two of her team-mates were among the nine who lost their lives in a helicopter crash on their way to a basketball tournament.  The tragedy has reminded 18-year-old Shontelle Matano that other young women, like herself, should seize their dreams.

Dear Gigi,

As I write this, I imagine you up in the heavens laughing with your dad, Kobe; maybe talking plays and tendencies, and just being the passionate girl you seemed to be.

On the outside looking in, it was beautiful to witness the precious relationship you had with your father. I am also the proud daughter of a #GirlDad, who is the reason I love sports today. So to see you and your father together at games was amazing. Thank you for helping to show us that basketball means family.

Thank you for your undeniable love for the game and tenacious competitive spirit, as well as your desire to outwork anyone at just 13 years old.

Not many people have the same fire that you had. Not many people can be so committed to fulfilling their dreams like you were, way before finishing school. I definitely know that at your age, I didn't have anywhere near the same will as you to grind.

You were a basketball prodigy who’d already mastered the fadeaway, who was without a doubt on track to the WNBA. With your impressive skills and boldness, there was no surprise why. You lived and breathed the sport and trained like a professional athlete. You were fixated on a screen every night watching NBA games.

The WNBA has promised to honour you and your team-mates Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli at their draft in April.

A jersey with Gianna Bryant's No.2 is draped on an empty seat of the UConn Huskies' bench at a game against the US women's team. Photo: Getty Images.

I appreciate that you never let anyone pigeonhole you because you were a girl. But instead you confidently showed everyone what it truly means to be a girl - as someone who is not suppressed by limitations. You were quick to point out that girls can do anything, affirming that with: “I got this, you don’t need a boy for that.”

Thank you for your drive, as the future of women’s basketball who had a passion and never wanted to stop pursuing it. You were an incredible reflection of what many young people around the world dare to achieve.

‘Mambacita’ is what your father called you, derived from his Mamba mentality to be the best you can be. It showed that you don’t have to be classed as just one thing - because you played basketball, made tik tok videos like any teenager, loved being with your friends and family. And above all, you were just you.

I also want you to know that you have inspired a girl all the way on the other side of the globe and will continue to motivate girls everywhere to grasp every opportunity we get in life.

Here in New Zealand, women’s basketball has seen a surge with many girls choosing to take up the sport. There are currently 21 New Zealand female players in American colleges and our ‘Girls Got Game’ programme is also a sign of more great things to come for the sport here.

The coverage of all our national women’s league games this year on Sky Sport is just another example of the growth of basketball. It’s becoming more visible to a broader audience.

Shontelle Matano. Photo: supplied. 

When girls can actually have role models to watch on TV, they believe that it is possible for them to live out the same aspirations.

You were working towards being that role model with your dad, who worked tirelessly to promote the female game.

With that, it’s a reminder for us to be more and do more. We have to continue telling the story of women’s basketball and women’s sport. Whether that’s by advocating for it in the community, organising events, watching and supporting female athletes and doing anything in our power to lift up women and girls in all aspects of life.

You have influenced us to courageously go after our dreams, to persist, unlock our talents and work harder - even when we think we can’t - because you would do anything to have had this chance.

Your lovely Italian name Gianna means the “Lord is gracious”. You were a blessing and as we grieve and ponder all that you had to look forward to, we know you’re in a place of peace with your daddy forever.

Rest easy sweet angel,

Love, Shontelle Matano.

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