Kobe Bryant had a special friendship with Brandy Norwood. The Los Angeles Lakers legend, who died Sunday in a tragic helicopter crash, made headlines nearly 25 years ago for his sweet friendship with the actress and TV star. As fans mourn the loss of the legendary NBA star, they are remembering happier times that took place just before Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded to the Lakers as a teen.
In 1996, 17-year-old R&B singer Brandy accepted an invitation to the Lower Merion High School prom with the up-and-coming high school basketball player. At the time, Brandy was the star of the TV sitcom Moesha, while high school senior Bryant was being scouted by NBA teams.
At the time, Brandy noted that Kobe’s invitation marked a lot of “firsts” for her.
“It’s my first prom, my first date, my first everything,” Brandy said in 1996, per The Morning Call. “I feel like I’m missing out on a lot when it comes to teenage life.”
Bryant’s mother, Pamela, said her son met Brandy at the Essence Awards and was instantly smitten.
“He came home from the Essence Awards and said, ‘I met such a nice, beautiful, intelligent, sweet person,'” Pamela Bryant told The Philadelphia Inquirer, according to Insider. “Then when [Brandy] called, she said, ‘My mom might let me go.’ I thought it was so sweet.”
After the prom, Brandy, who had already been working in the entertainment industry for years, said she was happy to feel like a “normal” teenager, even if just for one night.
“I just felt like a normal 17-year-old,” the singer said, per Glamour. “It was so much fun. Although [there were] cameras and media there, it still felt normal to be in a school with kids my age. We were dancing; it just felt real…I really needed to experience that and I wouldn’t if Kobe never asked me.”
Kobe’s best moment from Lower Merion High: Taking Brandy to the prom. pic.twitter.com/C1d6q5YHy2
— SI Vault (@si_vault) December 2, 2015
Kobe later returned the favor. Shortly after the prom, the young athlete later made his acting debut on Brandy’s TV show Moesha. Bryant played a character named Terry Hightower in the 1996 episode “The Whistleblower.”
In the episode of the UPN sitcom, Bryant’s character received help from Brandy’s Moesha as he prepared to retake his SATs. When Terry’s SAT score doubled, he faced accusations that Moesha took the test for him.
— ESSENCE (@Essence) August 24, 2016
While Brandy and Kobe were never officially a romantic item, their teen friendship warmed fans’ hearts. In 1997, Brandy was courtside to cheer Kobe on the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest when he was a rookie.
Fast-forward 24 years, and Brandy told TMZ that her mom still has the corsage Kobe gave her on prom night. She also recalled how special the night at the Philadelphia-area prom was for her.