Vanessa Bryant has been more than just Kobe Bryant’s wife for the past 15 years; the constant media attention turned her into a celebrity in her own right, and now the 33-year-old is in the spotlight again as the NBA legend’s career comes to a close.
The wife of the future Hall of Famer has been in the news since she started dating Bryant as a high school student, through their marriage just two years later, and the rape allegations that plagued Bryant more than a decade ago. She has been seen by Kobe’s side, has amassed a large following on social media, and at one point was even rumored to be joining the Real Housewives franchise.
In the weeks leading up to Kobe’s final game, Vanessa Bryant made headlines when she showed off her husband’s five NBA Championship rings, which she said were given to her as a gift.
Vanessa Bryant just posted what is probably one of the best selfies you'll ever see. pic.twitter.com/Wxn7EjyoGS— Lakerholicz.com (@Lakerholicz) April 7, 2016
Vanessa later clarified that the rings weren’t the ones given to Kobe, but instead a duplicate set he had made for her.
“For those that think this is Kobe’s set of rings: This is a set of Championship rings my husband gifted to me,” she wrote. “His ring size is twice the size of mine. Obviously, this is NOT HIS SET OF CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS…..???????? My thumb ring would never fit his pinky).???? #OBVI.”
Kobe and Vanessa met and started dating while she was still in high school, and married in 2001. Kobe was 23 at the time and Vanessa was 19. The couple had their first child, a daughter named Natalia Diamante Bryant, in 2003.
Vanessa Bryant went from the sidelines to a staple of the sports news circuit later that year when Bryant was accused of raping the 19-year-old employee of a Colorado resort where he had been staying during a rehab stint. Kobe declared his innocence and said the sex was consensual, but at the same time engaged in a bit of damage control in his own marriage.
In July of that year, three days after he was formally charged with rape, Kobe bought Vanessa what was termed an “apology ring,” a $4 million, 8-carat purple diamond. He also issued a very public apology to his wife.
“You’re my backbone,” he told Vanessa during a press conference (via People magazine). “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.”
The rape charges ended up being dropped and the case moved to civil court, where Kobe agreed to a settlement. While the exact terms of the payout were never disclosed, Denver trial lawyer Larry Pozner told USA Today it was likely a hefty one.
“In Kobe Bryant terms, the check will be small,” he said. “In her terms, the check will be gigantic. Kobe just bought her a home.”
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant reconciled and had a second daughter, Gianna Maria-Onor’e, in 2006, but their relationship problems continued. In 2011 Vanessa filed for divorce, though they called it off two years later.
“We are pleased to announce that we have reconciled. Our divorce action will be dismissed,” Vanessa wrote on her Instagram page (via Hollywood Life). “We are looking forward to our future together.”
Kobe also shared a message on his Facebook page to announce that he and his wife were staying together.
“I am happy to say that Vanessa and I are moving on with our lives together as a family,” he wrote. “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!”
Now, as Kobe Bryant ends his 20-year career with his final NBA game on Wednesday night, Vanessa Bryant is once again in the spotlight and will certainly garner plenty of screen time not only during the game but in the days — and interviews — to follow.
[Picture by Jeb Jacobsohn/Getty Images]