Kobe and Vanessa Bryant’s 20-year love story came to a tragic end in January 2020, when a helicopter crash killed both Kobe, who would have turned 42 years old Sunday, Aug. 23, and their second-eldest daughter, 13-year-old Gianna or “Gigi.” In the months since his passing, widow Vanessa and surviving daughters Natalia, Bianka, and baby Capri have been inundated with displays of public grief and an outpouring of love from the many, many lives this family touched. But as the world grieved for who Kobe was to them, the real journey for the Bryant family has been their private mourning of who he was to them. As we look back at Kobe and Vanessa’s relationship timeline, we want to remember him as he would have wanted to be remembered: as a husband, a dad, and the love of Vanessa’s life.
Read on for a complete timeline of Kobe and Vanessa’s time together, starting with their love-at-first-sight meeting in 1999.
1999: Instant chemistry
Sparks flew as soon as Vanessa and Kobe met in 1999, on the set of the music video for G’ed Up. Vanessa, then 17, was working as a backup dancer and Kobe, age 21 and already a basketball star, was working on his debut album. Even though Vanessa was still in high school at the time, they hit it off right away and started dating.
2000: Engaged already
Six months later, Kobe knew he’d found the love of his life. He proposed, and Vanessa said yes — but they decided she should switch over to an independent study to finish high school, to avoid questions about the age of his fiancée.
2001: Wedding bells!
Kobe and Vanessa got married at a Catholic church in Dana Point, California. The otherwise joyous occasion had an undertone of sadness for Kobe, whose parents had refused to attend the wedding on the grounds that Kobe was too young, and Vanessa was not African-American. Kobe was estranged from his parents for years following their absence.
2003: Natalia is born
In January 2003, the couple welcomed their first daughter Natalia — who briefly helped Kobe patch things up with his parents.
2003: Kobe is arrested on sexual assault charges
That summer, Kobe was arrested and accused of having raped a hotel worker at The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, California. Kobe denied the claims and said he and the worker had a consensual sexual encounter, and the case was ultimately dropped when his accuser refused to testify. A second civil suit was settled out of court, and Bryant made a public apology to his family and to his accuser.
Vanessa, who had stood by her husband’s side throughout the scandal, was gifted a $4 million diamond ring two weeks later.
2006: Vanessa welcomes her rainbow baby Gianna
In 2005, Vanessa suffered a devastating miscarriage. She was able to become pregnant again, and rainbow baby Gianna was born in May 2006.
2011: Vanessa files for divorce
In 2011, Vanessa filed for divorce from Kobe as rumors swirled that the basketball player had had multiple affairs. She cited irreconcilable differences in her filing, and requested joint custody of their kids.
2013: They reconcile
By 2013, Vanessa felt solid enough in her relationship with Kobe that she was comfortable letting the world know they were back together. “We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together,” Vanessa wrote on Instagram.
2016: Kobe retires & Bianka is born
In 2016, the Bryant family hit two major milestones: in April, Kobe said goodbye to his 20-year basketball career, and in December, baby Bianka was born, making this a family of five.
2019: Welcoming baby Capri
Three years later, dad Kobe was branching out and loving life, and the family proudly announced the arrival of baby Capri in June.
2019: 20-year dating anniversary
20 years after first laying eyes on Vanessa, Kobe marked the occasion with a sentimental Instagram post: “On this day 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant I decided to take her on a date to Disneyland tonight to celebrate old school style (pre 4princesses) I love you my mamacita per sempre.”
2020: Kobe & Gigi’s fatal crash
On January 26, 2020, Kobe and Gigi’s helicopter crashed, killing all nine passengers aboard. In wake of their deaths, Vanessa offered this statement on Instagram: “here aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taking from us too soon.”
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