Sabrina Ionescu on Kobe Bryant: ‘All that he cared about really was your love of the game’

Kobe Bryant and Sabrina Ionescu.
(Instagram / sabrina_i)

When Sabrina Ionescu found out about Kobe Bryant’s death last month, the Oregon basketball star wondered what she was going to do without the guidance of the man she considered a mentor.

Ionescu also asked herself what she describes as an “angrier” question: “How could the world have brought me together with someone like Kobe, someone who understood me so well — maybe the first person in my life who truly got me on this deeper basketball level — only to then rip him out of my life after less than a year?! And why?!”

“It just felt cruel,” Ionescu wrote on the Players’ Tribune. “It still feels that way.”


Sabrina Ionescu could have been the first pick in the WNBA draft last season. But the Oregon star returned for her senior season, intent on helping the Ducks win a national title.

Feb. 12, 2020

Ionescu’s open letter was posted Monday, the same day a public memorial was held for Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna — two of the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas last month — at Staples Center. She wrote that her memories of Bryant have helped her deal with those angry thoughts and realize there was definitely a reason their lives intersected, even for such a short time.

“As I’ve started to process some of my grief, I’ve begun to realize — even if it was only for this short time?? That Kobe and I, and our paths…. they connected for a reason. Not just because of the wisdom that he shared with me. Not just because of the friendship, and confidence, and support that he gave me. Not just because of the way that he made me a smarter teammate, and a tougher competitor, and a harder worker. Not just because of the promise that he recognized in me — as a player, and a leader, and a person. I think my path connected with Kobe’s because of a bigger picture.

“Kobe always saw the bigger picture.

“That was clear with everything he did in his life — but to me it was especially clear with the way that he looked at and treated the game of women’s basketball. He didn’t see growing the game with girls as his hobby, or as some side project, or as a charity case. He saw it as a movement. And he didn’t get involved because he just wanted to be a fan of our movement. He got involved because he wanted to be a part of it.

“And that’s what I always loved so much about Kobe, and it’s one of the things that I hope people will remember about him. He didn’t care about your age, or your gender, or your background….. or any of that. Even your talent, at the end of the day, wasn’t what Kobe was there to judge. All that he cared about really was your love of the game. That was the test you had to pass with Kobe: Could you match him passion for passion when it came to hoops. If you could do that, then you had his respect.”