NBA legend Kobe Bryant said his Catholic faith sustained him through some of the most challenging times in his life, including in 2003 when he faced the possibility of spending years behind bars.
Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, died in a helicopter crash north of Los Angeles on Sunday morning.
The 41-year-old leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three other daughters — Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, seven months, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Bryant was a lifelong Catholic.
“Born in Philadelphia, Kobe Bryant was raised in a Catholic household and even spent some of his youth in Italy. Drafted into the NBA at the age of 17, he eventually married Vanessa Laine at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Dana Point, California,” the Catholic news site Aleteia reported.
During his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant amassed five NBA championships and 18 All-Star game appearances and was the third-highest scorer in league history at the time of his retirement in April 2016.
The Lakers’ Lebron James just surpassed Bryant in career scoring Saturday night in a game against the 76ers in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia.
Bryant’s last tweet was to congratulate James.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother ?? #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
The basketball great credited his Catholic faith with helping him navigate one of the most challenging times in his life.
In 2003, a 19-year-old woman accused Bryant of raping her in a Colorado hotel room.
The married NBA star, then 24, denied the charge, saying the sexual encounter was consensual.
Bryant told GQ in 2015 he was terrified as he faced the possibility of going to jail for many years.
“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,” the NBA legend said. “It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’
“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.’ And that was the turning point.”
A year after he was accused, a judge dismissed the charges against Bryant.
Bryant later apologized to the woman after reaching a settlement in a civil lawsuit brought by her.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” he said in a statement Sept. 1, 2004.
After news broke of Bryant’s tragic death, Instagram user Cristina Ballestero wrote in a post, “I want to 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. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil,” she continued.
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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. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see… it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death, alongside his daughter Gianna. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him, and her oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe & Gianna. ? . . . . #kobebryant
“Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see… it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END!”
Ballestero further related, “As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. …
“It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass.”
She also shared how she appreciated Bryant turning to his faith in God and receiving “God’s mercy and be a better man after his regretful decision” in Colorado.
Bryant reconciled with Vanessa following the incident and again when she filed for divorce in 2011 but withdrew the petition two years later, according to the Catholic News Agency.
The couple founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, which is “dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally, and encouraging young people to stay active through sports,” as well as aiding the homeless.
Bryant told the Times in 2012 that homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.’
“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right.”
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