Kobe Bryant and his teenage sweetheart Vanessa had been inseparable for more than 20 years.
Kobe shared a snap of the couple on their first date and said: “On this day 20 years ago I met my best friend, my Queen @vanessabryant I decided to take her on a date to Disneyland tonight to celebrate old school style (pre 4princesses) I love you my mamacita per sempre.”
But yesterday the proud dad and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash, leaving Vanessa devatated.
Another seven passengers on board the NBA legend’s private chopper also died in crash.
Kobe, himself only 21, was in the same building to work on his first album and immediately, the pair hit it off.
He would collect her from school in his black Mercedes but she always had to be home for her 10pm curfew.
Vanessa fondly remembered how he would “flood the school with roses”.
Just a few months later, Kobe and Vanessa were engaged and married in 2001.
Still only 18, Vanessa was terrified of flying but was determined to be at her husband’s side when he travelled back to his high school for his jersey retirement ceremony.
An insider who knew the couple well said they were “very close and very devoted to one another”.
Vanessa was still at school when she and Kobe started dating and the media scrutiny was intense.
But she was determined nothing would get in the way of their love story and opted to finish her studies at home to avoid the press.
It has even been reported that Vanessa had to miss her own high school prom because of the attention her relationship with Kobe was generating.
When the couple did tie the knot, there was no prenuptial agreement – despite Kobe’s huge wealth.
Vanessa is said to have told her cousin that he “loved her too much for one”.
Their ceremony was a quiet affair that took place at the St Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in California.
However, some key people were missing from the service.
Kobe is said to have been so determined he and his wife wouldn’t sign a prenuptial, it created a rift between him and his parents, Joe and Pamela, who were also concerned their son was marrying so young.
Neither they, nor his sisters, were at the wedding.
But two years later the wounds were healed when Kobe and Vanessa welcomed their first daughter, Natalia.
In 2005, Vanessa fell pregnant for a second time and the couple were delighted.
But it was an ectopic pregnancy and the couple miscarried.
Kobe and Vanessa were elated when daughter, Gianna, known as GiGi was born in May 2006. She was killed alongside her father in the helicopter crash.
In the same year their first child was born, Kobe and Vanessa’s marriage was rocked by sexual assault allegations.
Kobe was arrested but always denied committing the crime, although he did admit to adultery.
Vanessa, who has always stayed out of the public eye, stood by her husband even appeared at press conferences, where he protested his innocence.
Once again, he heaped praise on his wife and apologised for putting both her and his family through this.
The fall-out was swift and Kobe was dropped from endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella but the couple stayed firm.
The following year the case was dropped when his accuser refused to testify at a trial.
However, in 2011, the couple shocked the world when it was announced Vanessa had filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Two years later the divorce was called off and Kobe and Vanessa were quick to add to their brood with two more daughters, the youngest born in June last year.
But despite being married to one of the wealthiest men in sport, Vanessa’s feet never left the ground.
She shunned having a nanny to help her care for her four daughters and instead got up at 6:30am every day to get them ready.
Vanessa said in a 2012 interview: “I think people imagine that I sit at home with all the time in the world to do my hair and make-up but that’s certainly not the case.
“I’m up at 6:30am in the morning with my kids. I’m taking them wherever they need to go.”
The mum-of-four also made sure she never missed a sports game or practice of any of her daughters.
Fiercely private but determined to support her husband throughout her career, Vanessa would stand in the tunnel so she could kiss him after every game – away from the cameras.
And on his retirement, Kobe was excited about what the future would hold for he and Vanessa and their growing family.
In a poignant Instagram post he wrote: “I’m so excited to see what God has in store for us as a family now that one chapter is closing and new ones are opening.”
Kobe and Gianna were killed along with seven others in yesterday’s tragedy.
The other victims were Ara Zobayan, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and Sarah and Payton Chester.