Vanessa Bryant: A journey of pain and strength from a starstruck 17-year-old to being called the 'new Yoko Ono'
The story of their iconic love is known, from getting engaged while she was still in high school to standing by each other through thick and thin - but who is Vanessa?
While the world lost a basketball legend, Kobe Bryant's wife lost so much more. The 37-year-old Vanessa Bryant lost her husband of two decades, the father of her children and her best friend. The story of their iconic love is known, from getting engaged while she was still in high school to standing by each other through thick and thin -- but who is Vanessa?
Vanessa Bryant was born Vanessa Urbieta Cornejo Laine and she was a student at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, living a pretty normal teenager's life. She had grown up in Orange County and was trying her luck as a background dancer for the video for 'G’d Up' by Snoop Dogg’s rap group The Eastsidaz. She was a gorgeous, fresh-faced teen who was so sheltered, her mother is said to have taken her to auditions.
She met Kobe, who was already a Lakers star during this time when she was just 17 years old. They hit it off right away. Their relationship got so much attention that she had to graduate through homeschooling after photographers wouldn't leave her alone.
Vanessa has been a fiercely private person ever since. She rarely does interviews and it appears that she's kept the world outside her door. Recently, she also went private on her social media. However, that hasn't stopped her from being a polarizing figure.
She was known as a major driving force behind one of the most influential stars of our time, especially after Bryant was accused of raping a hotel concierge in Colorado in 2003. The bad press continued from the time the allegations flared up in 2009 all the way to 2011 and Vanessa filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences". When the two got back together later in 2013, the only thing she said was that they were working on the issues inside their marriage.
She was dubbed "the new Yoko" by Sportingnews.com columnist Matthew Berry, as a reference to John Lennon's wife who was once blamed for breaking up the Beatles after the Kobe Bryant-Karl Malone feud, with Bryant accusing Malone of making a pass at his wife at a Lakers game. The "ICE QN" vanity plate on her Mercedes-Benz did not help.
However, her close friends and family have spoken about how she struggled to fit into the shoes of an NBA wife, even having an identity crisis at some point. They've spoken about how she is protective of her family. She's also worked extensively alongside Kobe in charity through The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.
After Kobe and their daughter Gianna died in the tragic Calabasas crash this week, Vanessa has not made a statement yet, although sources have said that she's "devastated" and "can hardly keep it together". She's holding her three surviving daughters, Natalia Diamante Bryant (17), Bianka Bella Bryant (3) and Capri Kobe Bryant (7months) close and is trying "very hard to pull it together for the other girls. She now has to be the strong one."
While she's surmounted through plenty of hurdles throughout her adult life, which has been spent entirely in the spotlight, this loss is unlike any other. But, given the strength she's built from the age of 17, she will likely emerge triumphant at the end of this tunnel.