The world was shocked when basketball giant Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. They left behind Kobe’s wife Vanessa Laine Bryant and three other children, the youngest just eight-months-old.
On Monday, Vanessa, 37, eulogized Kobe and Gianna in a memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. She called Kobe her “soulmate” and said Gianna “would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA.”
“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” Vanessa said. “He had to bring them home to heaven together.”
An intensely private person, Vanessa has rarely sought the limelight for herself, preferring to step back for Kobe and her children. She does not even have her own Wikipedia page. But she’s not a wallflower by any means. Here is the untold truth about Vanessa Laine Bryant.
Vanessa started dating Kobe while she was still in high school
Vanessa Urbieta Cornejo was born on May 5, 1982 in Los Angeles, California. She took on her stepfather’s surname Laine in high school. Her parents were reportedly very protective of her as a teenager and didn’t let her date much. This all changed the summer of 1999, when she was about to start her senior year of high school. She was discovered at a concert and started getting offers to appear as a dancer in music videos.
Kobe Bryant, then 20, was already an up-and-coming basketball phenom trying to break into the rap game. Kobe’s rap career never panned out, but it ended up serving an important role in his life. It was during a video shoot for the Tha Eastsidaz “G’d Up” that Kobe met Vanessa, and the pair began dating. She was just 17.
Kobe and Vanessa got engaged when she turned 18
Dating a basketball star when you’re in high school sounds romantic and exciting but it was also surreal. Their first date was at Disneyland, but they were shadowed by bodyguards the whole time. He would pick her up after school in his Mercedes, and send flowers for her to the school office.
In the end though, the paparazzi flying helicopters over the school was too distracting. Vanessa ended up completing school through independent study and missed her senior prom. Outside of school, Vanessa accompanied Kobe to games and red carpet events. He proposed to her after only six months of dating. They announced their engagement at Vanessa’s 18th birthday party.
According to Monica Squadrilli, one of Vanessa’s former classmates, a lot of the students didn’t believe she was really dating Kobe Bryant. “But then he gave her that massive engagement ring, and that shut everyone up,” Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times.
Vanessa reportedly never signed a prenuptial agreement
The pair were married on April 18, 2001, two years after they met. It was a quiet ceremony with few guests, mostly for a disappointing reason. Kobe’s parents Joe and Pam Bryant did not attend. They were reportedly unhappy about his choice of partner and boycotted the wedding. “Kobe quietly confirmed this week that Joe is uncomfortable that Vanessa, a Latina, is not African-American,” the Orlando Sentinel reported in 2003.
Even more divisive was the fact that Kobe would not ask Vanessa to sign a prenuptial agreement. Her parents had filed for bankruptcy four days after the couple announced their engagement. The families never really bonded after that. Kobe’s father, former NBA star Joe Bryant, famously told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s his life, we’ve got nothing to do with it. We’ve done our job.”
Vanessa stood by Kobe during his rape accusation
Shortly after the birth of their first daughter Natalia in 2003, Kobe was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Denver, Colorado. Kobe and Vanessa held a press conference where he admitted to infidelity, but not assault, claiming the encounter with his accuser was consensual.
Vanessa stood by him, releasing a statement that said, “I know that my husband has made a mistake — the mistake of adultery. He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal.”
The accuser chose not to testify in court and the criminal case was dropped. Though, a civil case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money in 2005.
Vanessa suffered a miscarriage in 2005
For months after the news of the rape accusation broke, it was speculated that the pair would separate, but they did not. Kobe gave Vanessa a purple diamond ring worth a reported $4 million, and had her name tattooed on his bicep.
In early 2005, Vanessa suffered a miscarriage, an event for which Kobe blamed himself due to the stress he had caused her. “We should be building our family. But because of my mistake, because of this tough year, we lost a baby,” he said in the Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse.
Within a year, Vanessa was pregnant again. She gave birth to their second daughter Gianna in May 2006.
Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011
Despite the claim of sexual assault, Vanessa and Kobe’s marriage appeared unbreakable for years. Then, in December 2011, Vanessa abruptly filed for divorce. She cited irreconcilable differences. But nothing happened after the filing. They reconciled a year and a half later.
“We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled,” Vanessa wrote on Instagram in 2013. “Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together.”
After this, Vanessa and the girls became permanent fixtures at Kobe’s games, sitting courtside and cheering him on. Their third daughter, Bianka, arrived shortly before his retirement from the sport in 2016. Finally, a fourth daughter named Capri was born in 2019.
Vanessa reportedly wanted more children
Even though Kobe wanted to move away from basketball after he retired, it did not move away from him. His daughter Gianna became interested in the sport. The Bryants took up the opportunity to focus on women’s sports and to encourage more women and girls to play. He formed and coached his daughter’s basketball team and named them the Mambas, after his own nickname.
A lot has been made of the fact that Kobe and Vanessa had four daughters. Kobe was reportedly just fine with that arrangement, famously calling himself “girldad” and creating the hashtag on social media. But reportedly, Vanessa was all for trying again to get a son.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. On January 26, 2020, a helicopter crash took the lives of Kobe, 41, and their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven other individuals. The helicopter was on its way to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California where Kobe was to coach one of Gianna’s basketball games.
Vanessa has filed a wrongful death lawsuit
In the midst of her grief, Vanessa Bryant has only made a few public announcements. She spoke at a memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles for Kobe and Gianna. She set up a memorial fund for the other people killed in the crash, which included her daughter’s friends. And she has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the helicopter pilot was negligent by flying in cloudy conditions.
The world has come out to support Vanessa and her family at this tragic time. The future is uncertain, but Vanessa has stated her faith that Kobe and Gianna are “lighting the way” for them.