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Kobe Bryant "had a special bond with each of his daughters," a friend of the family tells PEOPLE

By Benjamin VanHoose
January 27, 2020 01:50 PM
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Kobe Bryant proudly put his family first.

Following the tragic news of Bryant’s death at age 41 in a helicopter crash — which also killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers on Sunday — a friend close to the family tells PEOPLE that Bryant was endlessly proud of his four daughters.

Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, 37, and their three daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri, whom the couple welcomed in June.

“One of the biggest things he was looking forward to after retiring from the NBA [in 2016] was getting to spend more time with his family,” the friend says. “He was a very hands-on dad and, like any other father, saw such bright futures for all of his daughters.”

The source adds, “He was so proud to see them take after not only him and Vanessa, but also grow into their own. He had a special bond with each of his daughters.”

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant with Gianna, November 2019
| Credit: Allen Berezovsky/Getty

Former baseball pro Derek Jeter echoed Bryant’s passion as a family man when he remembered his late friend in an essay for the Players’ Tribune on Sunday.

In the tribute, Jeter, 45 — who has two daughters of his own — said he bonded with Bryant over fatherhood.

“All I ever needed to know about Kobe Bryant was this: that throughout our friendship, the most meaningful conversations we had — they were always about family,” Jeter began his essay.

Jeter, who joined sports stars Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan in speaking out about Bryant’s death, said the Lakers legend “just loved being a dad.”

“Tragedies like this have a cruel way of reminding us of what’s important in life: spending time with our loved ones, and being there for them no matter what,” Jeter wrote. “Which makes today’s events feel especially cruel — because no one needed less reminding than Kobe.”

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Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and family, December 2017
| Credit: Allen Berezovsky/Getty

In 2018, Bryant opened up to PEOPLE about how he used coaching his daughters in basketball as an opportunity to teach them life lessons.

“A valuable lesson that I can teach them is what it means to pursue excellence and the commitment level that comes with that,” Bryant said at the time. “At the same time, making things fun and challenging, and learning new things. But they’re having a blast. They’ve gotten extremely, extremely good over the course of the last year, and are continuing to work and get better, man. It’s been fun.”

After his death, an interview he gave in 2018 resurfaced online, showing Bryant explaining why he preferred to travel using a private helicopter in order to have more time to spend with his daughters.

“Traffic started getting really, really bad, and I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing like a school play because I was sitting in traffic,” Bryant said at the time. “I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time.”

The proud parent continued, “So that’s when I looked into helicopters, to be able to get down and back in 15 minutes and that’s when it started.”