Bryant credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.
In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.
Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.
Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.
“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,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.
In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.
“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”
Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.
Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “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.”
“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s Catholic faith is also reported to have helped the basketball superstar renew his marriage. His wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011.
But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.
“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.
“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 ass 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.”
Bryant’s longtime teammate and sometime rival, Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted Sunday that Bryant was “a family man.”
Funeral plans for Bryant and his daughter Gianna have not yet been announced.
Correction: This story originally stated that, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant attended morning Mass Jan. 26 at Our Lady Queen of the Angels parish. While NBC 4 has not issued a correction or retraction of that reporting, a representative from the Diocese of Orange contacted CNA Jan. 28 to state that Bryant prayed in the church before the 7:00 am Mass, he was not in attendance at the Mass. This story has been edited to reflect that clarification.