It's been less than a month since Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others tragically passed away in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020.
Less than two hours before Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks were going to play then-No. 9 Oregon State on the road, both teams learned about the passing of Kobe and his daughter. The two teams shared a moment of silence shortly after.
The Ducks, especially Ionescu, had spent time with the Bryants and gotten close to in the past year. Kobe and Gianna attended multiple Ducks games when Oregon traveled to California.
Wearing Kobe's signature shoe with "Forever 24" written on the heels, Ionescu would play all 40 minutes of the Civil War and leave victorious to sweep the season series against Oregon State.
After the game, Sabrina dedicated the rest of the season to Kobe in a postgame interview with ESPN.
I mean, everything I do, I do it for him obviously. Really close friend and this season’s for him.
Staples Center hosted a public memorial for Kobe and Gianna Bryant on 2/24 in honor of Kobe and Gianna's basketball numbers of No. 2 and No 24.
At the memorial, Ionescu gave an emotional speech about how both of them had greatly affected her. She started off the speech detailing the first time she met them when they surprised the Ducks by sitting courtside when they played at USC. Ionescu thought the surprise was going to be "Nike sent us some new shoes or swag or something."
When Kobe, Gianna and two of her teammates entered the arena, "they sat courtside while [Sabrina's] jaw sat dropped."
After the game, they visited the Ducks locker room and Kobe gave them advice she's never forgotten.
He congratulated me on the win that day and our season up until that point, but then said, and I'll never forget, 'Don't shoot yourselves in the foot.' He meant don't settle. Keep grinding, Control what you can.
Ionescu also remembered watching Gianna smile in the locker room and that Sabrina had watched film on her: "She had a fadeaway better than mine." However, Ionescu knew that Gianna was more than just a basketball prodigy, she was the future of the women's game.
If I represented the present of the women's game, Gigi was the future and Kobe knew it. So we decided to build a future together.
Sabrina would work out twice with Gianna and Kobe over the summer.
"I loved watching how hard she worked and how much her teammates loved her, but also her own desire to be great. She always wanted to learn, to go to every game she could: college, NBA, WNBA. Kobe was helping her with that because he saw it in her. Just like he saw it in me.
"His vision for others is always bigger than what they imagine for themselves. His vision for me was way bigger than my own. More importantly, he didn't show up in my life and leave. He stayed. We kept in touch, always texting, calling, game visits. I'd drop a triple-double and have a text from him 'Another triple-double I see' with a flex emoji. Another game another text: 'Yo beast mode' or 'Easy money'. I felt some pressure early on in the season and he wrote to me 'Be you. It's been good enough and that will continue to be good enough.'"
Kobe would teach Sabrina his stepback to put her game over the top and helped her with her footwork, a Kobe specialty: "'Real sharpness comes without effort' he said. ...He was giving me the blueprint. He was giving Gigi the same blueprint."
Kobe reassured Sabrina that her drive to be the best was an asset, not a curse.
He united us. He made it so that the outsiders who outworked everyone else, who were driven to be just a little bit different every single day, to make those around them, behind them and above them a little bit better every single day. And they weren't the exception. They were the rule.
Sabrina, the face of women's college basketball, is doing it not only for herself, but also for the women that come after her.
I wanted to be a part of the generation that changed basketball for Gigi and her teammates. Where being born female didn't mean being born behind. Where greatness wasn't divided by gender.
Ionescu still texts Kobe despite his passing: "'Thank you for everything. The rest is for you. Rest easy my guy.' The last one I sent him said 'I miss you. May you rest in peace my dear friend.'"
To close out her speech, Sabrina had an emotional plea to all those watching.
I ask each of you, every girldad, every human here with a voice, a platform, and a heart, to not let his sun set. Shine for us. For our sport where he once did. Invest in us with the same passion and drive and respect and love as he did his own daughter. In the end she was a sun just starting to rise and god did she glow. May their light forever shine. Kobe and Gigi I'll love you forever. Thank you.
Ionescu will travel to the Bay Area to play No. 4 Stanford tonight at 6:00 p.m. after the conclusion of the memorial.
You can watch the full interview embedded above.