Opinion: Gianna Bryant’s unfulfilled dreams permeate memorial with unbearable sadness

LOS ANGELES – She had a step-back three-pointer, and a fadeaway jumper. She could go one-on-one against a defender and break down an opponent just like her dad.

The video montage of Gianna Bryant playing basketball or listening to her dad, Kobe Bryant, talk to her about basketball was as impressive as it was adorable. There is such joy and competitiveness in her face.

“Her skill was undeniable at an early age,” WNBA star Diana Taurasi said at Monday’s "A Celebration of Life" for Kobe and Gianna.

University of Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu said, “She had a better fadeaway than mine. … She was the future."

UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma – who Gianna may have played college basketball for – was thoughtful and funny, telling a story of watching Gianna play basketball. “On about the third or fourth time she touched the ball, Gianna passed it when she was open. I thought, 'She’s not listening to her father.' "

But there was more to Gianna – she went by "Gigi" – than just a 13-year-old basketball player.

In an emotional, tearful and heartbreaking remembrance of her daughter, Vanessa Bryant revealed more details of who Gianna was.

A sweet, gentle soul who made sure she kissed her mom good night and good morning.

A daddy’s girl who loved her mama, loved to bake – her chocolate chip cookies were the best, Vanessa said – and enjoyed baking shows on TV and watching Disney movies with her sisters, Natalia, Capri and Bianca.

Vanessa described Gianna’s laugh as “infectious, pure and genuine.”

Vanessa Bryant weeps while delivering her remarks about her husband Kobe and daughter Gianna. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

Obviously, she could hoop, and Vanessa said she would’ve became the best player in the WNBA and made a huge difference in women’s basketball.

Gigi was sunshine, Vanessa said, and could brighten up the day – a teen who could be counted on to do the right thing. A rule follower. A teacher. A leader.

And she was smart. She knew how to read, write and speak Mandarin Chinese and speak Spanish.

She had a go-to outfit: black leggings, white T-shirt, white high-top Converse sneakers and a flannel shirt wrapped around her waist.

Those are memories now, filled with love. That’s what her family and friends have. They long for so much more.

While Monday’s event at Staples Center was billed as a celebration, it was impossible to escape the sadness of a life ending so young.

Yes, Kobe Bryant and the other adults died too young, too. It is all horribly sad.

But the teens – Gianna; Payton Chester, 13; Alyssa Altobelli, 14. It is crushing, almost unbearably so. They had so much life in front of them, so much potential.

The heartache will never go away, especially for family and friends. It may get easier as the passing of time smooths the sharp pain. But that’s a long time from now.

Because while their loved ones are left with memories, they are also left wishing for memories that will never happen.

Vanessa tearfully imagined the days Gianna will miss. High school. Learning how to drive a car. A wedding day and father-daughter dance. A WNBA career. Motherhood.

We know the life Kobe lived. His accomplishments are out there for all to see. The titles, the points, the awards.

What we will never know is the life Gianna was supposed to live. 

The sadness of losing young lives walks hand in hand with a celebration of life.

Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter.

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