She had next.
Her name was Gianna Maria Onore Bryant. The world, now and forever, knows her as Gigi. Her dad, Kobe Bryant, called her Mambacita. He was Mamba, of course, and she was going to be basketball’s female version of him. She was going to play at Connecticut and head to the WNBA. That was the plan.
Over the years, the world watched her grow from a babe in her father’s arms, to a small child trying to hold his Finals MVP trophy to his companion at WNBA, college and NBA games around the country, listening to her father break down play and watching every detail on the court, just as he always did.
“Gigi was really turning into a special player,” said Russ Davis, the women’s basketball coach at Vanguard University in Southern California and someone who became close with Bryant in recent years. “It’s hard to predict her future, but with the way she was improving and the way she understood the game, she was going to have a bright one.”
Gigi was 13. She was one of the nine people, her father also among them, on the helicopter that crashed Sunday morning into a hillside in Calabasas, California, as the group made its way to a basketball tournament where she was supposed to be playing. The helicopter burst into flames. All nine — including two of her teammates — died, officials said.
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant had four daughters. Gigi was the baller of the group. She was going to carry on the Bryant name in basketball. Few things in life made Bryant happier than that realization.
“I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gigi said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS in 2019, when she and her dad attended the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA opener. “More information, more inspiration.”
She was even sounding like her dad.
The film study was working. So, too, was the five- or six- or seven-times-a-week workouts that Bryant would host for Gigi and her teammates on the team he coached. They ran the triangle offence, the one where Bryant had so much success with during his career. Grown men, professionals, the best players in the world, struggled with the triangle. Bryant had pre-teen girls figuring it out.
“He never yelled or anything,” Davis said. “They just listened to him.”
Earlier this month, Bryant posted a short video clip of Gigi in a game. The sequence: dribble-drive, pass to the corner, post up, wait for the ball to come back, catch, footwork, shoot the fadeaway.
Her father’s unstoppable fadeaway.
She scored. Of course.
“Gigi getting better every day,” her dad wrote.
Bryant and Gigi went to a UConn home game against Houston last March. Bryant wore a UConn shirt — just like Gigi was — and told SNY television during an in-game interview that he was thrilled that one of his daughters wanted to follow in his sneakers and take up the family basketball business.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool,” Bryant said. “She started out playing soccer, which I love. But she came to me about a year and a half ago and said, `Can you teach me the game?’ I said, `Sure.’ We started working a little bit and the next thing you know it became a true passion of hers. So, it’s wonderful.”
Many of Gigi’s favourite players had UConn ties, like Katie Lou Samuelson — she had played for Davis, which led to the initial connection between he and Bryant — and Gabby Williams.
“From what I saw,” Williams said Monday, “she was going to be heaps better than me.”
Williams was floored when Gigi told her she was her favourite player. She would FaceTime with the Bryants before games, gave Gigi her Chicago Sky uniforms, even practiced with Gigi and her teammates and was blown away by how hard she had to play against them.
“She had the right mentality, so confident, relentless, so mean and aggressive,” Williams said. “And then (she would) walk off the court with the biggest, sweetest smile on her face. But my favourite part about her was just seeing how much she loved the game and loved to learn.
“It’s intimidating to have to follow in those footsteps,” Williams added, “but she really embraced it.”
The UConn allegiance made all the sense in the world. Bryant played in Los Angeles, but he was a Philadelphia guy. So is UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who was heartbroken by the news of the crash Sunday. UConn has been the gold standard in the women’s college game for a generation, driven by excellence. Bryant identified with that quality.
Jewell Loyd of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm knew plenty about Gigi. Loyd sponsors an AAU team in Seattle. They played against Bryant’s team, and over the years Loyd and Bryant forged an extremely special, extremely close bond. They looked at one another as family.
Her description of Gigi? “Awesome,” Loyd said.
“When I went to work out with Kobe, most kids her age would be on the tablet,” Loyd said. “She stayed still and watched the entire time. Didn’t say anything. She was studying the game of basketball. If that didn’t say Kobe, I don’t know what does.”
Even NBA players were impressed. Atlanta’s Trae Young couldn’t believe it when Bryant told him that Gigi was a huge fan of his and was trying to emulate parts of his game. So Young paid tribute Sunday by opening a Hawks game in a No. 8 jersey, before switching back to his customary No. 11.
Afterward, Young recalled some of his final conversation with Bryant.
“He said how proud he was of me and how he wants me to continue to be a role model for kids growing up, for Gigi,” Young said.
There were similarities in how father and daughter looked — the dark, piercing eyes, especially — but Loyd also saw similarities in the way father and daughter played the game. Both, she said, were methodical. Both were willing to outwork their opponents. Gigi knew who her father was and knew that meant a lot of eyeballs would be on her, that comparisons between her and her dad on the court were going to be inevitable.
Gigi didn’t care, either.
She wanted to be like Dad.
“That’s his legacy,” Loyd said.
That’s now Gigi’s legacy as well.
Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)
The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.
Tale of the Tape
|45.8% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50,5% (17th)|
|2,78 (26th)||Goals per game||3,42 (9th)|
|3,39 (22nd)||Goals against per game||3,63 (7th)|
|15,7% (29th)||PP%||27,6% (5th)|
|82,3% (6th)||PK%||71,6% (27th)|
|1-1-0||H2H Record (’21-22)||1-1-0|
On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.
Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.
Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.
Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.
McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.
His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.
Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.
Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.
One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.
NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com
Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.
Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.
The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.
Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.
“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”
Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.
Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.
Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).
Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.
Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.
“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.
“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”
Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).
Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.
“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman
World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca
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