Stanford Coach Remembers Kobe Bryant's Commitment to Women's Basketball

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Basketball star Kobe Bryant was killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles suburb along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

For Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer, Kobe Bryant was not only an NBA superstar who transformed the game, he was also a staunch supporter of women's basketball.

Bryant's daughter, Gianna, who was among the nine passengers killed in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash near Los Angeles, was already a known entity: a 13-year-old rising basketball star who planned to carry on her father's legacy, with dreams of playing in the WNBA. She, along with Kobe and two other teammates, were headed to a youth basketball tournament that day.

"I just think it's very sad for his family and for all of basketball to lose someone that was so talented," VanDerveer told KQED's Mina Kim.

VanDerveer said Bryant, who had four daughters, genuinely enjoyed women's basketball. "When you have someone that is an icon in professional basketball, and they are interested in women's basketball ... he definitely brings positive attention to the game," she said.


Just last week, Bryant made headlines by calling for women to someday be allowed to compete in the NBA, alongside men.

"I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now, honestly," the Los Angeles Lakers legend said in an interview with CNN, listing WNBA stars Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Elena Delle Donne as fit for the task. "There's a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it," he said.

VanDerveer said her players might remember Bryant best for his incredible work ethic. "I think it inspired a lot of young players to work really hard and be in the gym and to hone your craft," she said.

Before one of their games last season against UCLA, VanDerveer said the team received a motivational phone call from Bryant, who offered his advice on staying focused.

"You’ll hit true brilliance when you play really, really hard and you also have the tactics to go along with it," Bryant told the team.

Despite his decorated career, Bryant leaves behind a complex legacy, one that VanDerveer called an indelible "part of his history." In 2003, he was charged with assaulting a 19-year-old women who worked at a Colorado resort where he was staying. He insisted the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped when the women declined to testify in a trial. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

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"I would never condone that, I don't respect a man that would do that. It was settled. I wasn't in the room. I don't know exactly what happened," VanDerveer said. "But I guess my experience with him was related to women's basketball and his support of women's basketball."

On Sunday, as details of Bryant's death were still emerging, VanDerveer's team was busy giving the Utah Utes a serious drubbing, defeating them 82-49.

"Our team is happy about our success, but very saddened by the news," VanDerveer said during the post-game press conference. "It enforces to our team how much we love each other, how much we take care of each other and in the big picture there are things much more important than a basketball game.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.