Kobe Bryant's Parents: 5 Things You May Not Know About Joe And Pam Bryant

The shock waves still echo round the world from the news of NBA legend Kobe Bryant's fatal helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26. While his millions of fans are taking to social media to share their outpourings of grief, let's not forget the ones closest to him who are most deeply affected by this tragedy. Perhaps hardest-hit of all may be his parents, Joe and Pam Bryant. They not only lost their only son, but also their 13-year-old granddaughter Gianna.

While no parent ever wants to survive their own child, much less a grandchild, this saddest of all events can be even more devastating if the relationship has had its ups and downs. Suddenly, there's no more time to make things right, and all you're left with is "should-have-dones" and "might-have-beens."

Kobe Bryant's parents were part of the NBA family

Kobe's dad, Joe, was himself a for-real pro baller. According to Basketball Reference, "Jellybean" Bryant began his career with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1975, playing power forward for four seasons before being traded to the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Clippers and then finishing his eight-year career playing a single season for the Houston Rockets. 

Mom Pam was also part of an NBA family, since her brother, Chubby Cox, played for the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) during the 1982-83 season (via Basketball Reference). Although Joe's career average of 8.7 points per game (not to mention Chubby's mere 4.1) fell far short of his son's amazing 25 points per game average (via Basketball Reference), Kobe might not have become the superstar he was if he hadn't been born into the NBA world.

Kobe Bryant and his parents fell out over finances

Once Kobe Bryant hit the big time, achieving the kind of phenomenal success his dad and uncle only dreamed about, he was generous with his family, but this was a decision he would come to regret. In a letter to his younger self that was published in the Players' Tribune shortly after Kobe played his final game, he spoke on "the challenges of mixing blood with business" as well as the "anger, resentment, and jealousy" this may lead to. What he was most likely alluding to was a 2013 incident in which Joe and Pam Bryant tried to auction off a collection of memorabilia from their son's career including high school uniforms and 2000 Lakers championship rings.

Although the items may have, in fact, belonged to Kobe's parents (they'd have probably been the ones paying for the high school uniforms, and he'd given them the rings as a gift), Kobe nonetheless took offense that they hadn't notified him or requested his permission to sell those things. He even filed a lawsuit to block the sale, but eventually settled out of court for a public apology from his parents and the removal of about 90 percent of the items from the proposed auction (via ESPN).

Kobe Bryant's parents skipped his wedding

While a lawsuit between family members is certainly going to cause friction, it turns out that the 2013 falling out Kobe had with his parents wasn't the first time these family members had become estranged. They were evidently unhappy over his marriage to wife Vanessa, so much so that they did not even attend the wedding. According to a 2003 article published in the Orlando Sentinel (just two years after the marriage), Kobe's dad thought his son was moving too fast, becoming engaged at 21 to a woman who was herself just 18 at the time. Kobe, however, speculated that his parents' unhappiness may have stemmed from the fact that his bride was Hispanic rather than African American. 

Kobe Bryant's parents didn't attend his final game or his retirement ceremony

Sadly, Kobe's parents seemed to make a habit of missing his milestones. When Kobe retired in 2016, the family had still not recovered from the earlier lawsuit and its fallout. Kobe was likely referencing that incident in the Player's Tribune letter to his younger self when he spoke of "tears and heartache, some of which remains to this day." Or, as he told ESPN in a post-retirement interview when asked about his parents, "[o]ur relationship is s***."

The tears and heartache still remained some 18 months later when the Lakers retired Kobe's jersey numbers. Heavy reveals that neither Pam nor Joe Bryant was in attendance. Kobe, in turn, thanked his wife and a long list of NBA Hall of Famers, but he said not a word about his parents.

Kobe Bryant and his dad reconciled before his death

Even though Kobe and his parents were still on shaky ground for several years after his retirement, the estrangement evidently did not extend to the grandkids. Kobe's former coach Wayne Slappy, who was also a very close friend of Joe Bryant, was interviewed by the Daily Mail shortly after news of the tragic helicopter crash, and he spoke of how close Gigi (Gianna) and her grandpa were. He also mentioned a recent basketball camp in Santa Barbara attended by both Kobe and his dad where their interaction suggested that both men may have finally decided to let bygones be bygones. "I just remember [...] seeing him hug his dad. You know how they loved each other from how they looked at each other, how they smiled," Slappy said.