(CBSLA)- Almost four months later, it’s still hard to grasp that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna are no longer with us. The Lakers legend was just beginning to enjoy his post-retirement life and his work as an advocate for women’s basketball and women’s sports generally.
For Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, the relationship she enjoyed with Kobe was special. She describes him as endlessly curious and inquisitive and wanting to get as much information about every situation as possible. Their friendship was such that Bryant had invited Lieberman to come out and put his daughter Gianna’s team through its paces in practice, talking the night before the crash that took their lives.
“We had so many conversations up until two days before he died we were texting each other and he asked me to come out to L.A., stay with them and fly over with Gianna and him to the Mamba Academy to put the team through practice. We have as much time as you need. Stay at the house,” said Lieberman in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith.
Lieberman says the next day she was at an event at Indian Wells, attending a lecture when her son T.J. called her to tell her the news of Bryant’s death.
“I about fell to my knees and this man grabbed me. I was wailing. I couldn’t breathe. He meant so much to all of us in women’s sports because he was so respected and people listened,” said Lieberman. “And, the father he was, the person he was, had an effect on others.”
She remembers Bryant weighing in on a conversation she was having with some co-workers at Fox Sports about whether or not women could play in the NBA.
“It was going to be the first time. I was in the studio the night before. And on Friday night, the 24th, I was getting ready for the Pels game. And the Spurs, Mavs, Oklahoma City, we’re all in the same studio at Fox Sports and one of the guys in front of me said, ‘can you believe that Kobe said that women can play in the NBA, that’s crazy.’ And, we’re all god friends so I went ‘hello, I’m still here.’ It’s Ced(ric) Ceballos and Greg Buckner they turn around and I’m like guys it’s not optimal, but it’s doable,” said Lieberman. “So, after that, I said to the guys jokingly, let’s see what Kobe says. I text him and go Kobs, do you want to talk about women playing against men in the NBA. He said yes, so I said when and he said now. He texted me and it says, They absolutely could. The reporter was acting like they couldn’t. Doesn’t mean they need too but f*** the level of disrespect because they are women are so normal. Dudes think they can just overpower them, it’s bulls*** and frustrating as hell. NBA players would get served up let alone some weekend warrior.”
That advocacy for women’s athletes and the kind of father Bryant was to Gianna and his other daughters is what Lieberman respects the most about him. For her part, Lieberman proved that a woman could hang with NBA players just fine when she played for the Lakers in Summer League under Pat Riley, the Jazz in Summer League under Frank Layden and then in the USBL in 1986-87.
Lieberman, who currently serves as an analyst for the New Orleans Pelicans, has led a fascinating life. She got into all of it from the national championships with Old Dominion to her relationship with Kobe and Muhammad Ali and more in the interview with Sixsmith. The full clip can be seen in the YouTube video above.