Kentucky coach John Calipari received a package from Vanessa and Natalia Bryant to honor Gigi Bryant on her 17th birthday. The package, sent via the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, included a plaque commemorating Gigi’s birthday, a program from her and her father’s memorial service, a pair of shoes, and other gifts for Calipari. In a video he posted on Twitter, Calipari thanked Vanessa and Natalia Bryant and said he will frame Gigi’s jersey and hang it in his office.
Kobe Bryant and John Calipari are linked because of the 1996 NBA draft. Calipari was a first-year head coach with the New Jersey Nets at the time, and Kobe was a promising high school star. Kobe went to the Los Angeles Lakers with the 13th pick, and Calipari said he had pushed for the Nets to pick him, but he couldn’t get the other decision-makers within the franchise to back him. The Nets fired Calipari in the strike-shortened 1999 NBA season following a 3-17 start.
Last year, John Calipari and Kentucky men’s basketball partnered with the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation to create a skills camp for underserved youth in Kentucky. The camp was designed to honor Kobe and Gigi’s legacy and provide opportunities for young athletes to develop their skills. Calipari’s continued relationship with the Bryant family shows the impact Kobe and Gigi had on the basketball world and beyond, and their memory will continue to inspire future generations of athletes.