Vanessa Bryant made a subtle tribute to Kobe Bryant and late daughter Gianna on Wednesday, when fans noticed she changed her Instagram profile photo to one of her husband and child. In the picture, Gigi is looking up lovingly at her dad with her arm draped over his shoulder.
The sweet image was taken at the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, the last of Kobe's 18 appearances. It's the first time Vanessa has publicly acknowledged the tragedy.
Kobe, Gigi, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and Kobe's private pilot, Ara Zobayan, were all killed in Sunday's helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. They were heading from Orange County to Mamba Sports Academy.
Vanessa and Kobe share four daughters: Natalia, 17, Gigi, 13, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri. The couple wed in April 2001, when he was 22 and she was just 18. Kobe frequently posted tributes to his "Queen" on Instagram.
"It’s an extremely difficult and devastating time for Vanessa and the whole family," a source told People, adding that Vanessa is obviously "devastated."
"She can hardly keep it together," the insider said. "She can’t finish a sentence without crying. But she is working very hard to pull it together for the other girls. She now has to be the strong one."
The source continued, "Of course, you can never be prepared for this. Despite their ups and downs, [Vanessa and Kobe] were soulmates. She thought of him as her partner for life."
A second insider added, Vanessa "is surrounded by people who love her and love Kobe. She has a good support system. She is relying on her faith. She is not alone. But she will be grieving this for a very long time."
TMZ founder Harvey Levin said in an interview this week that Vanessa was informed about the death of her husband and daughter before the website broke the news to the world.
"We dealt with Kobe's people for an hour before we published the story and we were told very clearly that [Vanessa] had been notified," Levin said on KNX's In-Depth. "We talked to Kobe's people and we were dealing with them for an hour before we published the story and they said, 'Go for it.' At a point we were all trying to confirm it and we confirmed it, but they all knew and they said, 'Go for it' and they said she knew."
The Bryant family has not issued a public statement in wake of the tragedy.
In a 2018 interview, Kobe explained why he flew around southern California in helicopters: because he wanted to be a good dad.
"Even on weekends … traffic got really bad," Kobe said on Barstool Sports’s “The Corp” podcast in 2018. "And I miss a school play because I am sitting in traffic. And these things kept mounting. I had to figure out a way to still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time. So that’s when I started looking into helicopters."
Kobe added, "My routine was always the same. Weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do. Fly back, get back in carpool line and pick the kids up."
"My wife was like, ‘Listen, I can pick them up,’" Kobe recalled. "And [he said], ‘No, no, no. I want to do that.’"
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
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