(CNN) — During his illustrious career at the LA Lakers, Kobe Bryant conquered almost all in the NBA but the superstar was never just content with his own personal success.
In his final interview with CNN Sport, Bryant used his global appeal to once again promote the women’s game, stating that a number of Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) stars could one day compete with the men.
Just days after his interview was published, Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash that also took the lives of his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
However, his words are cherished by Diana Taurasi, one of the women that Bryant referred to in his interview with CNN.
Responding to his claims that she could one day make an appearance in the NBA, Taurasi laughed that she may be too old for such a feat.
“It might have passed me by but I can still shoot the corner three and, I mean, who plays defense in the NBA anyway?” she joked to CNN Sport’s Don Riddell.
‘He never beat around the bush’
The 37-year-old Taurasi is considered by some as the greatest WNBA player of all-time and has been the league’s all-time leading scorer since June 2017.
As a three-time WNBA champion with Phoenix Mercury, Taurasi earned the nickname “White Mamba” — a derivative of Bryant’s own “Black Mamba” monicker.
“I think the sad part is that the greatness was just starting,” she said, describing the news of Bryant’s death as a “bad dream.”
“When you saw him with his daughter and the things that he was doing with different projects. I knew Kobe pretty well and he was a guy that was always moving forward. That’s all we can do now is move forward for him.”
Part of Bryant’s passion and support for the WBNA stemmed from his daughter’s love of the game and Gianna showing early promise at youth level.
Taurasi, who has won a total of four Olympic gold medals for the USA, said it was “surreal” to hear Bryant praise her ability.
“He was just trying to think outside the box and give us that validation, you know, as women’s sports and athletes, that we are looking for,” she said.
“I think when he said it, he meant it. He never beat around the bush. What he really felt and wanted to say, he did and it was an honor.”
Taurasi has been at the forefront of the effort to secure gender equality in basketball for many years and the campaign made a breakthrough recently that promises to see WNBA salaries increase.
“There is still a sense we need validation. We need people to invest. That was the one thing that is going to be sad because Kobe was on that track,” she said.
“He put his time and his passion toward women’s sports. I think, as of late, people are taking notice and really investing their time and money into it.”
Fellow WNBA star Sue Bird, who can also boast four Olympic gold medals, praised Bryant’s influence on the sport.
Like Taurasi, Bird says the superstar “genuinely cared” about women’s basketball and was inspired by Bryant when they met at the Olympic Games.
“I mean that Mamba Mentality, it didn’t stop on the basketball court. There were nights we played cards, just hanging out, and you could see it come out,” she told CNN Sport.
“He had played this long career and we all knew him in this one role but he was just starting to live his life and starting to get into the things he was most curious about. That’s just incredibly sad.”