As tributes pour in for basketball legend Kobe Bryant after his tragic death in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday at the age of 41, some fans are remembering how Bryant’s Catholic faith sustained him during a difficult period of his life and inspired his philanthropy.
The former Laker and father of four was raised Catholic and spent his childhood in Italy, where his father, Joe Bryant, played professional basketball in Italian leagues. Bryant and his wife were married at a Catholic parish in Southern California in 2001 and are regular parishioners in Orange County, California, according to Catholic News Agency.
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez issued condolences on Sunday. “I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones,” the archbishop tweeted.
So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL
— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020
Singer Cristina Ballestero shared a story on Instagram about encountering Bryant at a weekday mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California.
“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!” Ballestro wrote. “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.”
Ballestero said that Bryant’s “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.”
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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
The “regretful decision” Ballestero was referring to was the circumstances that led to Bryant’s arrest in 2003 for allegedly raping a woman in a hotel room in Colorado. The case was eventually dismissed after the accuser declined to testify. Bryant would later settle a civil lawsuit with the woman and issue a public apology to her acknowledging that she did not consider the encounter to be consensual.
“First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year,” Bryant stated in his 2004 public apology. “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.”
In an interview with GQ magazine in 2015, Bryant shared how his Catholic faith helped him cope with the damage done to his personal relationships and his professional image following the 2003 rape case.
“The [loss of the] endorsements were really the least of my concerns,” Bryant told GQ. “Was I afraid of going to jail? Yes. It was twenty-five to life, man. I was terrified. 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. 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.”
In the same GQ interview, Bryant discussed his determination to fight for his marriage:
In 2011, Bryant’s wife Vanessa filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Yet those differences were reconciled, thirteen months later. They remain a married couple. “I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Kobe says. “We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”
Bryant’s faith also reportedly influenced his family’s charitable giving, via the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.
“Bryant was quick to acknowledge that everyone has made poor choices in their life, including himself. He said that’s no justification for people to turn their backs on those who have been reduced to what he called ‘white noise,’” noted a 2012 Los Angeles Times profile of Bryant’s work with the homeless.
“I don’t want to be too cheesy and quote ‘Spider-Man’ but with great power comes great responsibility,” Bryant told the Times about his philanthropic work.
“I got a lot of people saying, ‘Come help us out. I want to turn my life around,’” he told reporters in 2012. “My response was, ‘Well, that’s why I’m here.’ ”
Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and three of their daughters. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also killed in the helicopter crash that took Bryant’s life and seven others.
Rebecca Mansour is Senior Editor-at-Large for Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Tonight on SiriusXM Patriot channel 125, which broadcasts live weeknights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern (6-9:00 p.m. Pacific). Follow her on Twitter at @RAMansour.