Before Kobe Bryant boarded what turned out to be an ill-fated helicopter flight with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other people, he went to church to pray.
Father Steve Sallot leads Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California. Speaking to reporters, Sallot said “He just came and went quietly and prayed and gave his life to the Lord. And yesterday he had to give it back.”
Father Sallot said Bryant did not attend the 7:00 am Mass that was scheduled on Sunday, January 26th. Instead, Bryant came and left before Mass started. Sallot ran into Bryant in a doorway, just as he, Bryant, was leaving, and Sallot was coming to officiate the service. The two chatted briefly before Bryant left for the airport. “We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was holy water on his forehead. So I knew that he went in the chapel and prayed, came out and blessed himself.”
Bryant grew up Catholic and continued to exercise his faith later into his life. According to Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bryant “was a very good Catholic, a faithful Catholic.” The Archbishop posted a tribute to Bryant on his Twitter account.
So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL
— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020
Despite his faith, Bryant’s life was not without sin. In 2003, Bryant was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Colorado. Bryant insisted the sexual encounter was mutual, but the woman believed differently. The charges against Bryant were eventually dropped, and he issued this apology statement in 2004:
Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
Speaking to GQ Magazine in 2015 about the allegations against him, Bryant said “The one thing that really helped me during that process–I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic–was talking to a priest.”
Not only did his faith get the basketball superstar through this confusing time, it also seemed to have saved his marriage. Bryant married Vanessa Laine in 2001. The couple had four children, one of whom died with Bryant in the helicopter crash. In 2011, though, the Bryant’s marriage didn’t look like it would last too much longer. Vanessa filed for divorce, and Kobe, with the same determination he showed on the basketball court, refused to give up on the relationship. Again speaking to GQ, Bryant said:
We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my [butt] off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.
Two years after filing for divorce, Vanessa withdrew her request.
Father Sallot called the encounter with Bryant a “backhand of grace” encounter. “We got a moment for me that was grace. And hopefully, for him, it was as well,” Sallot said.