The Seattle Storm player, 25, appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday to talk about Bryant — who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday that killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others — and his impact on women’s basketball.
Speaking with Robin Roberts, Stewart said she and the rest of Team USA were deeply affected by the loss when they played against University of Connecticut women’s basketball team the day following the tragedy.
Stewart, a UConn alum currently playing for Team USA, called the game “really emotional.”
“Every single player had a story they could share about him, so the news — just like for the rest of the world — was a shock to us,” she said.
On Monday, players and fans in the arena paused for a 24-second moment of silence, a tribute to the No. 24 jersey that Bryant, 41, wore for the Los Angeles Lakers. Team USA also took an 8-second violation after the tip as a nod to the other jersey number Bryant wore during his NBA career.
UConn paid tribute to the late athlete by allowing the 24-second shot clock to expire and also created a special Huskies jersey in memory of Gianna, who dreamed of one day playing with the team herself, that was put on display courtside during the game.
“We just wanna remember the people who lost their lives,” Stewart said during the interview. “It’s tragic. To think there were kids involved makes the situation even worse.”
Sarah Chester and her daughter, eighth-grader Payton, the head basketball coach at Orange Coast College John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, girls basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan were identified as the other victims who perished in the crash.
Stewart had the names of Gianna — nicknamed “Gigi” — and her teammates written on her shoe during the UConn game as another tribute.
During her appearance on GMA, Stewart remembered how Bryant was always a supporter of the WBNA and shared how the basketball legend previously reached out to her after she had ruptured her Achilles tendon — a similar injury that he suffered in 2013.
“I got hurt overseas in Hungary and I flew direct from Vienna to L.A. When I touched down, I had a message from Kobe just letting me know that he was here for me,” she recalled. “Throughout the entire rehab, he was just someone in my corner.”
Before his death, Bryant regularly appeared at WNBA and women’s college games, which brought much-needed attention to the sport. He also founded the Mamba Sports Academy, a training facility dedicated to provide access to sports for girls and other kids.
Bryant notably wanted to pass on his basketball knowledge to Gianna and often spoke about his daughter’s love and talent for the game.
“[Gianna]’s pretty fierce. She loves playing, she loves shooting. She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she really just started playing, but she picked up things innately,” he told Extra in July 2017.
The following year, he told Jimmy Kimmel that Gianna was confident in her dreams to play for the WNBA.
“[Gianna] will be standing next to me, and [fans] will be like, ‘You gotta have a boy. You and [wife Vanessa] gotta have a boy, you gotta have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,'” Bryant said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh! I got this. Don’t need no boy for that! I got this.'”