Calipari thanks the Bryants for package honoring Gigi


John Calipari thanks Vanessa Bryant and her daughter Natalia after being sent away by family Kentucky Coach a package to honor Gigi Bryant on her 17th birthday on Monday.

In a video posted to Twitter, Calipari said he would frame Gigi’s jersey and hang it in his office. Gigi and Kobe Bryant both died in a helicopter crash in 2020, along with seven other people.

The package, through the Mamba and Mambakita Sports Foundation, includes a plaque commemorating Gigi’s birthday, an event for her and her father’s memorial service that was held at the Staples Center, a pair of shoes and longtime coaches. Other gifts were included.

“Vanessa, thank you. Natalia, thank you. I can’t wait to see you guys,” Calipari said in the video. “You know I appreciate you both. For doing it all, for Gigi’s birthday, 17th birthday, you know my heart goes out to both of you at this time. For me doing it, Thank you.”

Kobe and Calipari have been linked forever because of the 1996 NBA draft. At the time, Calipari was a first-year head coach with the New Jersey Nets, and Kobe was a promising high school star. Last year, Calipari and Kentucky men’s basketball partnered with Mamba and the Mambakita Sports Foundation to create a skills camp for underserved youth in Kentucky.

The Nets, who had the eighth pick in 1996, selected former Villanova star Kerry Kittles in that draft, and Bryant went to the Los Angeles Lakers at 13. Other power brokers within the franchise to support him. Calipari said that Kobe would later joke with him that he “would still be in the NBA” if the Nets had selected him.

The Nets fired Calipari after a 3–17 start in the strike-shortened 1999 NBA season.

After the deaths of Kobe and Gigi three years earlier, Calipari said on his radio show, “Everyone thought I was crazy.” “High school kid, he was 17.”

Calipari said the response he received from the organization was that “you don’t know what you’re doing” because he was so new to the NBA. Other reports stated that Bryant and his team had told the Nets that he would prefer to play overseas if the franchise decided to select him.

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