The Truth About Vanessa Bryant And Kobe Bryant's Marriage

Kobe Bryant died on Jan. 26, 2020 in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, who was 13 years old. The tragedy threw not only the NBA into grief, but also affected fans everywhere, who struggled to cope with the shocking news. As part of this process of grieving him, people have begun to examine what Kobe was doing in his final days and what the last 12 months of his life were like. The major theme of these final days was that Kobe was a family man and clearly loved being a father. He was also a man of faith. The last thing he did before boarding the helicopter was attend Catholic Mass early in the morning.

As everyone struggled to make sense of his death, people looked to his wife, Vanessa Bryant, to see how she's been managing and what she's had to say about losing a husband and a daughter in one day. She's used social media to express her grief and shared a touching video where Kobe thanked her for being his support while their daughter, Bianka, was attempting every possible measure to crawl to her dad. There was nothing sweeter. Vanessa has even weighed in on basketball news, adding her take to the conversation about replacing the NBA logo with Kobe's silhouette. However, while their marriage looked perfect, especially by the end of Kobe's life, it wasn't always easy.

How Kobe and Vanessa Bryant met

Vanessa Laine and Kobe Bryant met through music rather than basketball. In 1999, when Vanessa was only 17, she was exiting a concert at ​​Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, when she was approached with the offer of appearing in music videos. She gave the man her number and got cast as a backup dancer in several videos. What shocked her friends the most was that her mother agreed to the gigs, considering how deeply sheltered Vanessa's childhood was.

A friend of hers told the Los Angeles Times: "She was in a Krazy Bone video, and then she got called to be in a Snoop Dogg video, Tha Eastsidaz's 'G'd Up.' She got to lip-sync to the part where Snoop Dogg does the hook — you know, 'If it ain't chronic don't blaze it up, and if it ain't a Chevy, don't raise it up.'" The friend described Vanessa's costume on set as "a metallic bikini and heavy black eyeliner," so she was certainly eye catching. Her mother attended the filming as a chaperone, since Vanessa was underage at the time.

Meanwhile, Kobe was also embarking on a music career in 1999 and was actually signed by Sony Records, according to Billboard. He released a single called "K.O.B.E." featuring model Tyra Banks and collaborated with several other artists. Vanessa got offered the gig of appearing in Kobe's music video and it was love at first sight.

They got engaged after just 6 months

Vanessa Laine and Kobe Bryant got engaged only six months after they met. Kobe would contact her via pager and Vanessa wasn't shy to share the exciting news with her friends. She was still finishing high school and when she told her classmates who she was dating, they were skeptical. "She'd bring pictures of Kobe to school, and we'd all be like 'Omygod!”' former classmate Monica Squadrilli told the Los Angeles Times. "I remember there was one of him playing with her puppies, and she would only let us look at it, we couldn't touch it. Even then, a lot of people didn't believe her. But then he gave her that massive engagement ring, and that shut everyone up."

Another friend said of Vanessa, "It was just Kobe this and Kobe that. It got so that that was all she or anyone could talk about." Her parents, however, weren't thrilled. "He was an adult and she was only 17, and it was like, hey, wait a minute," her stepfather Stephen Laine said, though they waited until she turned 18 to get engaged.

Their relationship also caused Vanessa problems at school, E! reported. Kobe would send flowers to her at school and pick her up sometimes, which would cause a frenzy among the students. At the suggestion of her school, Vanessa finish her education through homeschooling, a tough order for a high school student who just wanted to share her happy news.

The couple had a small wedding

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant married on April 18, 2001, at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Dana Point, California, according to E!. While it was a happy day for the couple no doubt, the wedding caused major family friction. Allegedly, Kobe and Vanessa never signed a prenuptial agreement. Vanessa's stepfather, Stephen Laine, told the Los Angeles Times: "She just came home one day and said something to the effect that Kobe didn't want a prenup — that he loved her too much."

This was all too much for Kobe's family, especially his father, Joe Bryant, who was also an NBA player. And while the Bryant family was concerned about the financial aspect of the marriage, they also worried about Vanessa as a match. Their racial differences were a problem for the family, as was her upbringing. Compared to the very prestigious rearing that Kobe had, Vanessa didn't seem quite up to snuff. "She'd grown up in a Garden Grove tract house," the Los Angeles Times pointed out, compared to Kobe's childhood in Italy and "the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia."

Nevertheless, they went ahead and married without a single Bryant family member in attendance. In fact, none of his fellow Los Angeles Lakers came to the wedding, either. It was an extremely small, private event. To boot, Kobe's agent, Arn Tellem, didn't even go, as E! reported, and the assumption was that his agent was also concerned about the lack of a prenup.

Their married life began

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant kicked off married life by moving into a $4 million mansion in the California coastal city of Newport Beach in 2002, according to E!. Their new lifestyle was certainly different from Vanessa's previous life. She was suddenly surrounded by security and rubbing shoulders with famous people. The task of juggling her former self with her new identity was seemingly challenging.

A former classmate told the Los Angeles Times, "She'd take Kobe to places where people from high school would see her, like the Block of Orange or TGI Friday's, and then she'd get mad when people tried talking to him." Her step-cousin Laila Laine told the newspaper, "I remember at one point she had this sort of identity crisis. She told me she was starting not to know who she was anymore, other than the wife of Kobe Bryant."

The life of an NBA superstar's wife would certainly be a huge adjustment for her. For her 19th birthday, her husband bought her a Lamborghini that had to be customized since Vanessa could only drive an automatic. And for the girl who once worked at the mall, she now could suddenly buy the entire structure. Things apparently settled down for her, however, on Jan. 19, 2003, when Kobe and Vanessa welcomed their daughter, Natalia Diamante Bryant, per E!. The birth of their first child was the secret to mending the Bryant family rift, as Kobe's parents reconnected with their son after Natalia's birth.

Koby Bryant's sexual assault allegations

Life took a dark turn for Vanessa and Kobe Bryant in July 2003, when the NBA star was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old member of the hotel staff where he was staying in Colorado, according to Us Weekly. Though he was charged, he denied it, saying that he and the woman "had consensual sex," The New York Times reported.

The charges were eventually dropped. As the Los Angeles Times reported: "The accuser decided she would not testify, and prosecutors dropped the case Sept. 1, 2004." On that same day, Kobe issued an apology, per ESPN, saying, in part: "I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. ... 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."

Naturally, the events were trying on his marriage, too, though Vanessa stayed by his side throughout it all. During a press conference, Kobe addressed his marriage in this broader situation. "I'm innocent," he began, according to Us Weekly. "I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making the mistake of adultery. I love my wife with all my heart. She's my backbone." Rumors spread that the couple sought divorce lawyers, but Vanessa (through her lawyer) denied this to the Los Angeles Times.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's symbols of love

Three days after Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault, he gave Vanessa Bryant a purple diamond ring valued at $4 million, according to People. The 8-carat ring was famously called "the apology ring" after Kobe denied the sexual assault charges but admitted to adultery with a hotel employee.

However, the idea of the ring being an apology is actually misleading. As a second People report pointed out, Kobe had commissioned the ring "two weeks before" he went to Colorado from a boutique jeweler located in Santa Monica, California. Kobe, Vanessa, and their infant daughter, Natalia, went to the store together to pick up the final product. "They looked very happy together," the jeweler told People. "When they left, Kobe and Vanessa were holding hands."

During Kobe's press conference, he turned to Vanessa and said to her, in part: "You're a blessing. You're a piece of my heart. You're the air I breathe. And you're the strongest person I know, and I'm so sorry for having to put you through this and having to put our family through this," per People. Around this time, Kobe also got a tattoo in honor of her. It featured her name with a crown and angel wings as well as the text "Psalm XVII," per E!. The psalm is a lamentation, which begins: "Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer– it does not rise from deceitful lips."

The couple suffered a miscarriage

Though Kobe and Vanessa Bryant appeared to reconcile after his sexual assault allegations, the couple still had more challenges ahead of them. Early in 2005, Vanessa suffered a miscarriage, E! noted. She had an ectopic pregnancy, which meant that the pregnancy occurred outside of the uterus, as described by the Mayo Clinic. Usually in these cases, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube.

Kobe took the blame for their miscarriage. On the Showtime documentary "Kobe Bryant's Muse," he said, "The reality is it happened because of me. That's something I have to deal with," (via the New York Daily News). "We were expecting ... expecting our second child during that time [of the sexual assault allegation] ... and there was just so much stress, she actually, she actually miscarried. ... I have a real hard time dealing with that 'cause I felt like it was just my fault." He blamed his "mistake" for the loss of their child. 

Shortly after, in May 2005, the couple went to Laguna Beach to renew their wedding vows. E! pointed out that this gesture was actually planned by Kobe. Years later, when he died in January 2020, Vanessa said in his eulogy that he wanted to renew their vows again and had plans to do so. Clearly, this ritual was significant to "the romantic one in" their relationship, as Vanessa said of him. Unfortunately, they never got the chance to have their second renewal. 

Kobe Bryant's career started to blow up

Kobe Bryant didn't call himself the Black Mamba for nothing. From the start of his career, when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers at age 18, it was clear that he was the real deal. Fans adored him and he attracted crowds in droves to games. NBA legend Jerry West said of him, "Just to see the joy he played the game with, the joy he brought to fans, was pretty remarkable. You don't get players of that skill and that caliber that are able to do those things and bring that joy," according to the Los Angeles Times.

On Jan. 22, 2006, Kobe gave what The New York Times called "the most impressive scoring performance in N.B.A. history." He was responsible for 81 points in a game that led to the Lakers' victory over the Toronto Raptors. There was no stopping him, even in the years leading up to his untimely death. Former President Barack Obama said (via the Los Angeles Times), "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act."

While his career was off the charts, he and Vanessa Bryant had more happy news. On May 1, 2006, they welcomed their second daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, according to E!. Their family was growing just as his impressive career was booming. In 2010, Kobe signed an extension of his contract with the Lakers, worth $90 million.

Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce

Despite the apparent equanimity between Vanessa and Kobe Bryant from the outside, the couple shocked fans by announcing their divorce in December 2011. They had been together for ten years and shared two children. The news was surprising, since she stood by his side during his sexual assault allegations. Nevertheless, Vanessa filed her divorce petition with the Orange County Superior Court, according to E!. The documents claimed "irreconcilable differences," according to the Los Angeles Times, and unsurprisingly, talk focused on the rumors that they didn't have a prenuptial agreement. Vanessa's wish was for joint custody, but she wanted their children to primarily live with her, E! noted.

A statement by their publicist read: "The Bryants have resolved all issues incident to their divorce privately with the assistance of counsel and a Judgment dissolving their marital status will be entered in 2012. We ask that in the interest of our young children and in light of the upcoming holiday season the public respect our privacy during this most difficult time."

Rumors swirled that Kobe had engaged in other extramarital liaisons. According to The Daily Beast, other NBA wives informed Vanessa of these affairs. "Vanessa isn't the warmest person or the nicest one," the wife of a former Lakers player told the news outlet. "I think we enjoyed telling her about his affairs whenever we could." Despite the major headlines this garnered, however, their relationship was far from over.

They call off the divorce

As surprising as their divorce announcement was, Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's reconciliation was even more so. In January 2013, the couple announced they were calling off their divorce. "We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed. We are looking forward to our future together," Vanessa wrote on Instagram, (via USA Today).

Meanwhile, Kobe jumped on Facebook and wrote, "I am happy to say that Vanessa and I are moving on with our lives together as a family. When the show ends and the music stops, the journey is made beautiful by having that someone to share it with. Thank you all for your support and prayers! Much luv, Mamba out," (via USA Today).

People read the change of heart as very romantic. Media personality Fred Mwangaguhunga told The Daily Beast: "You have to remember Kobe met Vanessa when she was like 16 or something. They've been together ever since. They have a lot of history together, both good and bad." He also made mention of the ever-present prenup situation. "I'm surprised she stayed when she could have walked away with more than $100 million. She must love him." Others knew the two would get back together. Even in the midst of their divorce proceedings, Vanessa attended Kobe's games and they left the then-Staples Center together, NBC Sports pointed out. They couldn't seem to stay away from each other.

Kobe Bryant coached their kids

Perhaps one of the most perpetually endearing things about Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's relationship was the way they related to their children. In total, the couple had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. Kobe was famously dubbed a "girl dad" and was deeply invested in their rearing and their athletic abilities, something Vanessa endorsed wholeheartedly.

Kobe famously coached daughter Gianna in basketball and spoke with CBS This Morning about what was most significant about working with her. He said that the most important thing was "making sure she knows that I love her whether she plays well or plays like crap." He added, "Doesn't matter. You know, you're my daughter before you're a basketball player, and it's important that she knows that that's how I feel. And those aren't words — you have to behave that way; you have to show her that after a tough game, you get in the car and it's forgotten."

Not only that, but Kobe's love of storytelling and writing was also generated because of his daughters. He told the Showtime Basketball podcast that he started writing because there wasn't anything that his children could relate to. "I don't mean just from a diversity, like a color standpoint," he said. "But from the fact that they're athletes and there's no story that speaks to athletes. It's all princesses." Kobe stressed that he wanted to teach them to work for their success.

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant's secrets to success

As Kobe and Vanessa Bryant continued to be successful in their marriage, the NBA star shared the secret to their happiness. In January 2020, he sat down with Showtime Basketball and discussed how they made it work after nearly 20 years of marriage. "Just commitment and competitiveness of 'we are going to succeed,'" Kobe answered. "We've seen couples that have been, like, 85 years old and you look and you're like, 'Oh man, such an old, sweet couple' ... and I'd go talk to them because I wanna know. One time a guy goes, 'Yeah it's great, but she just kicked me out of the bed last night, I was sleeping on the couch last two nights.'" Kobe joked that things apparently didn't change much.

"It's the constant ebb and flow of relationships but that's also the beauty of it and having the persistence and determination to work through things, very, very tough things," Kobe added. "We've been able to do that."

The video of Kobe's touching relationship advice was posted on Jan. 9, 2020. Less than two weeks later, he and his daughter Gianna died, leaving Vanessa alone with their other three daughters. The proximity of the video to his death was noticed by fans and many returned to it in grief. One person commented, "Only Kobe would use the word 'competitiveness' to describe how he keeps his marriage when it's tough — 'we are going to succeed!' Fascinating!" Indeed it was.

Vanessa Bryant faced financial and legal drama after Kobe Bryant's death

Vanessa Bryant faced her own hurdles in terms of legal drama after Kobe Bryant's death. In the midst of her grief, she faced a lawsuit against her mother, Sofia Laine, who claimed that she worked for Vanessa and Kobe as a child caregiver and personal assistant without getting paid, according to the Los Angeles Times. Laine claimed that Kobe promised her financial support and that instead, Vanessa was bypassing his wishes.

But Vanessa was quick with a response. "[She's] continuing to try and find ways to extort a financial windfall from our family," Vanessa explained, according to Us Weekly. "She was a grandmother who was supported by me and her son-in-law at my request. She now wants to back-charge me $96 per hour for supposedly working 12 hours a day for 18 years for watching her grandchildren." She admitted that her mother occasionally babysat for the two oldest girls, but once they were "full-time students and athletes," there was no need for additional childcare besides what Vanessa and Kobe provided. The case was closed in August 2021 and the details remain private.

Additionally, Vanessa's case against members of the sheriff's office and fire department who shared photos of the dead found in the helicopter crash was approved for a jury trial, according to USA Today. Her attorney, Luis Li, said: "The callous and shocking behavior uncovered by Mrs. Bryant is more than enough to survive summary judgment."

Vanessa Bryant has managed without him

With such an intense marriage and a love story that had survived some considerably rough patches, Vanessa Bryant has had a tough go of getting through the loss of both a husband and a daughter. The widow told People in March 2021 that it comes and goes. "I can't say that I'm strong every day. I can't say that there aren't days when I feel like I can't survive to the next." 

Her focus has been on helping her three daughters, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri get through it as well. "This pain is unimaginable [but] you just have to get up and push forward," Vanessa went on. "Lying in bed crying isn't going to change the fact that my family will never be the same again. But getting out of bed and pushing forward is going to make the day better for my girls and for me. So that's what I do."

In her eulogy for Kobe Bryant, Vanessa told the fellow mourners that Kobe once bought her the blue dress from the 2004 film "The Notebook." She said, "He gifted me the actual notebook and the blue dress Rachel McAdams wore in 'The Notebook' movie." His reason, she explained, was because it's the dress McAdams' character wore when she returned to Noah. Their dream was to grow old together, but life took a different turn. "We really had an amazing love story," she said.