Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Through the Years
The couple had been married for 19 years before the basketball icon died on Jan. 26, 2020
Kobe first met Vanessa Urbieta Cornejo Laine on the set of a music video in 1999, when he was 20 and she was just 17 and still in high school.
“She’d bring pictures of Kobe to school and we’d be like, ‘Omygod,’ ” Vanessa’s classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times in 2005.
After a sweet first date at Disneyland, the two quickly fell in love. They got engaged when Vanessa turned 18, and then married on April 18, 2001.
However, two people were noticeably missing from the couple's big day, which took place at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California.
Bryant's parents — Joe and Pamela Bryant — skipped out on the joyous occasion because they did not approve of the union.
Despite the lack of support of Kobe's parents, the then-newlyweds continued to build their relationship and soon welcomed their first daughter, Natalia, on Jan. 19, 2003. The arrival of the baby girl helped mend the relationship between Kobe and his parents.
But the same year Kobe and Vanessa became new parents, the Bryants were rocked by scandal.
In 2003, Bryant pled not guilty to felony sexual assault after a 19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort accused him of rape, PEOPLE reported at the time. The woman claimed the then-Los Angeles Lakers player also blocked her from leaving his room and allegedly choked her. Criminal charges against the athlete were eventually dropped, and a civil case brought against Bryant was settled out of court.
Bryant claimed the encounter was consensual and apologized to the woman in a statement read in court, saying in part, “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,” the New York Times reported.
“Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed,’ ” was crucial, Bryant said.
He added that it also required solidarity between the couple when it came to working through those difficult moments.
“That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that,” he said of himself and Vanessa.
Despite their turbulent beginnings, the Bryants went on to welcome three more daughters after Natalia: Gianna, Bianka and Capri.
Following his 20-year career in the NBA, Kobe's entire family came out to support him when he retired from basketball in 2016.
With extra free time on his hands, Kobe embarked on his new chapter by spending more time with his loved ones.
"Just finished celebrating my 20 year career. It's a blessing to now celebrate 15 years of marriage today! I love you mama per sempre #15yranniversary," he wrote of his wife on Instagram in 2016.
Vanessa and the girls were also by Kobe's side when the Los Angeles City Council honored him by creating Kobe Bryant Day, which takes place on Aug. 24 (a.k.a. 8/24, the two jersey numbers the star wore throughout his Lakers career).
The sweethearts celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary in 2017 in Sedona, Arizona.
Then took their family on a Bryant vacation to Paris, France, where the couple took a silly selfie in front of the Mona Lisa.
The Disney lovers made another trip to the park and took a snap together in front of the house from Disney's Up.
Vanessa stood by her husband as he won his first Oscar in 2018 for best animated short for Dear Basketball, a film he wrote and narrated about his retirement from the league.
Then, just last fall, Kobe took Vanessa back to Disneyland on the same day they went on their first date two decades prior, Nov. 28.
The very last post Kobe made on Instagram of him and his wife was a stunning portrait they took at Beyoncé and JAY-Z's New Year's Eve party.
This marked the very last photo he would share of the two before his sudden death, following a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, 2020.
Kobe died, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, while traveling in his private helicopter to a basketball game for his daughter.
Emergency personnel responded at the time but none of the nine people on board survived, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said during a press conference.
Bryant is survived by Vanessa and their daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.
Four days after the crash, Vanessa posted a moving tribute to her husband and daughter on Instagram, thanking fans for the outpouring of support during the family's "horrific time."
"We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri," Vanessa wrote alongside a family photo.
"There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon."
She continued, "I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever."