Everyone around the world was shocked when 41-year-old basketball legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. And the story only became more tragic when it was revealed that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died alongside him.
While the entire world grieves their loss, nobody grieves more than Kobe’s three surviving daughters, his wife Vanessa Bryant, and his parents Joe and Pam Bryant.
Joe and Pam were two of the most important figures in Kobe’s life, but even the most hardcore fans of Kobe don’t know the truth about his parents. Here is the sad truth of Joe and Pam Bryant’s relationship with their son Kobe.
Kobe had NBA in his DNA
When an amazing new athlete appears on the scene, it often feels like a magic trick. Fans can only gawk and ask where the hell this new talent came from. In Kobe’s case, the talent is no surprise: he’s got NBA in his DNA!
His father, Joe Bryant (better known as “Jellybean” to his fans) played professional basketball for several different NBA teams from 1975-1983. This included the Philadelphia 76ers, the San Diego Clippers (back before they were the Los Angeles Clippers), and the Houston Rockets. And when his NBA career ended, he transplanted wife and six-year-old Kobe to Italy, where he played for seven seasons.
If that’s not wild enough for you, Pam Bryant’s side of the family helped bring a bit of basketball talent to Kobe’s gene pool as well. Her brother, Chubby Cox, played professionally for the Washington Bullets, though this only lasted for a single season.
While Joe never played nearly as well as Kobe, his basketball experience illustrates that Kobe was always meant to be a pro-baller. But even though Kobe surpassed Joe’s wildest expectations, trouble lay ahead for their relationship.
Money tears Kobe and his parents apart
When it comes to Kobe Bryant and his parents, there is a sadness that hangs over everything. Sadness, and a very simple lesson: money really can tear any family apart.
After Kobe Bryant became a household name, everything related to that name became more valuable. And that was when his parents decided to cash in by scheduling an auction of their son’s “memorabilia,” including stuff as simple as high school uniforms and as outrageous as his Lakers title ring.
They did all of this without asking for Kobe’s permission, and Kobe did not take things very well. He ended up taking legal action to prevent the auction. They eventually reached an out of court settlement that forced his parents to remove 90% of the items from auction and publicly apologize to their son.
“We regret our actions and statements related to the Kobe Bryant auction memorabilia,” Joe and Pamela Bryant said in their 2013 statement. “We apologize for any misunderstanding and unintended pain we have caused our son and appreciate the financial support he has provided over the years.”
Kobe may have gotten legal satisfaction, but this began a rift between parents and son that would never fully heal.
Kobe’s parents didn’t approve of his marriage
From the outside looking in, the epic fallout between Kobe and his parents seems a bit extreme. Did all of this friction come out of the blue? As it turns out, tensions between them had been building for years. That much was obvious the day Kobe got married.
When Kobe married Vanessa Cornejo Urbieta Laine in 2001, he got a real slap in the face: his parents did not attend the ceremony! As for why they didn’t attend, Kobe and his parents each have a different side of this story.
According to Joe Bryant, he was simply concerned for the longterm health of their marriage. He wasn’t sure if 21-year-old Kobe marrying 18-year-old Vanessa was the best idea.
However, Kobe maintained that the animosity was racially-motivated. He felt that his parents disapproved of his marriage to a Latina woman.
Also, it’s possible Kobe’s parents disapproved of him reportedly marrying Vanessa without a prenuptial agreement.
Kobe’s parents snubbed him to the end of his career
Fast-forward to 2016, and Kobe was getting ready to retire. Sure enough, his parents found a way to snub him yet again.
Keep in mind that the lawsuit over auctioning Kobe’s possessions was only three years old at this point, so tensions were still high. Because of that, his parents were not invited to his final NBA game, and they did not attend of their own accord.
Adding even more insult to injury, they also missed the ceremony where the Lakers retired Kobe’s old numbers. As for Kobe himself, he spoke pretty honestly about the rift in their relationship.
“Our relationship is s–t,” he told ESPN. “I say, ‘I’m going to buy you a very nice home,’ and the response is, ‘That’s not good enough?’ Then you’re selling my s–t?” Clearly, the wounds had not healed.
A timely reconciliation
Just as money is enough to tear anyone apart, family is enough to bring anyone back together. And it appeared that Kobe had reconciled at least somewhat with his father before he passed away.
“I just remember being with [Kobe] up at his [basketball] camp in Santa Barbara, and seeing him hug his dad,” family friend Wayne Slappy told The Daily Mail. “You know how they loved each other from how they looked at each other, how they smiled,” he said.
Slappy, a basketball coach and Joe Bryant’s close friend for decades, said that Joe did not answer his phone after he heard the news of Kobe’s death, which was unlike him.
“His family are going to miss him more than you can begin to imagine,” Slappy said.