As the media remember Kobe Bryant’s legacy, some of them are acknowledging his faith.
Americans mourned the death of the basketball legend after the media confirmed that both he and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, perished in a helicopter crash. Seven others also died in the Jan. 26 crash in California. While the tragedy made waves in the news, a more hopeful undercurrent focused on Bryant’s relationship with God.
Bryant retired in 2016 after playing with the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 seasons – but not before he set himself apart with five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, among other achievements. The sports star was raised Catholic, the Catholic News Agency reported. In 2001, he married his wife, Vanessa, at St. Edward Catholic Church in California, ESPN added. They had four daughters and stayed together despite considering divorce in 2011.
During a 2015 interview with GQ, Bryant revealed that he especially relied on his faith in 2003, after his arrest when a hotel employee accused him of rape in Colorado. While he admitted to a sexual encounter, he said that he had believed it to be consensual. The charges were later dropped and Bryant issued an apology. At the time, he said, he was “terrified” of going to jail.
“The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest,” he told GQ.
He described his interaction with the priest, which he said was “actually kind of funny.”
“He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not,’” Bryant remembered. “Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’”
“So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go,’” Bryant recalled. “And that was the turning point.”
During that same interview, when asked about friendships, Bryant said he knew “like minds,” or “People who feel like God put them on earth to do whatever it is that they do.”
Following the Colorado accusation, Bryant said that he learned from the experience that “God is great,” in another 2006 interview, Faithwire reported.
He elaborated after the interviewer, Stephen A. Smith, prodded, “I mean everyone knows that, but the way you know it now, did you know it before that incident took place?”
“You can know it all you want, but until you have to pick up that cross that you can’t carry and he picks it up for you and carries you and the cross, then you know,” Bryant said.
His faith was something he wanted to be remembered for, he revealed in a 2015 ESPN interview.
“I wanted to be remembered as a player that didn't waste a moment. I didn't waste a day, and I felt extremely blessed by the God-given talent,” he said.
One priest revealed that Bryant had prayed at church just hours before his death, according to outlets like CNN. Father Steve Sallot told the local CBS affiliate that Bryant, a “man of faith,” was a frequent parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach.
“I saw him yesterday (Sunday) before the 7 a.m. mass,” Fr. Sallot said. “We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then he moved on.”
“We shook hands, and I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” the priest continued. “So I knew that he’d gone into the chapel to pray and came out and blessed himself.”
Singer Cristina Ballestero took to Instagram on Jan. 26 to share her story of seeing Bryant in church.
“I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass,” she wrote.
“As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go,” she remembered, saying that in the Catholic Church, “this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women.” He also commented on her “beautiful voice,” she added.
On social media, Bishop Timothy Freyer confirmed that Bryant was a "committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith,” CBN reported.
"A longtime Orange County resident and parishioner in our Diocese, Kobe would frequently attend Mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ's Presence,” the bishop added.
Similarly, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez called Bryant a "very good Catholic, a faithful Catholic,” reported Catholic News Agency.
Following his death, sports ministry leaders remembered asking Bryant about his faith during the 2012 London Olympics, where he won one of his gold medals.
"I said, ‘Kobe, have you ever invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come into your life as your Lord and Savior?’” Randy Shepherd of Crossfire Ministry asked, as WLOS News 13 reported. “And he said, ‘Yes, I've done that.’"