A Quest for Athletic Excellence: Basketball, Kobe Bryant, and the Jiwani children

The Jiwani family has an undeniable aptitude for great athleticism, academia, and social change. Amaan Jiwani (18), Riyaan Jiwani (17), and Annika Jiwani (14) each have demonstrated a unique commitment to advancing their skills. While basketball is their sport of choice, they have also explored an interest in soccer, golf, and tennis and have been avid athletes since kindergarten.

As ardent basketball players residing in Orange County, California, their lives were dramatically upended on January 26, 2020. The tragic loss of former Los Angeles Laker’s star Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna Bryant [Gigi], John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan, was not just a headline but something much more personal.

Annika Jiwani has had an extensive journey in basketball as a Mamba Sports Academy member. At 14, she is the youngest in the Jiwani family and has always played basketball. It was just last year she was picked up by Kobe Bryant to be a part of the Mamba Team, which was coached by him. Prior to that in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, her previous basketball team won the league championships. That was where her talent was recognized by the Mamba Sports Academy. Many of her tournaments were played against Kobe's team. A coach from the Mamba Sports Academy approached Annika to try out with the team, and she made it successfully!

For Annika, an eigth grader at Fairmont Private School in Anaheim, basketball is a lifestyle. She dedicates seven days a week, 365 days a year to practice and training. This is also the mentality of the Mamba Sports Academy. Upon being drafted into the team, the first thing that Kobe Bryant said to the Jiwani family was, “This [basketball] is not a hobby! I want to get these girls into a Division 1 college.” With that goal in mind, diligence and hard work is what fuels Annika's incredible skill in basketball.

Annika quickly became friends with her teammates Gigi, Alyssa, and Payton, who sadly passed on that fatal Sunday morning’s helicopter crash. But, she also lost two coaches, Christina Mauser and Kobe Bryant. In fact, Kobe personally worked on their comprehensive development and many of the details from weight training to meal plans, from game tactics to skill-building, from academia to mental health. He was there, in person, for every single game regardless of the holiday season, be it the New Year, or even Christmas.

Kobe called Annika by her family-given nickname “Anni,” and fondly referred to her as his “sharpshooter.” For all the girls on his team, he was a second father. As part of the Mamba Sports Academy, he had taken a holistic approach and even organized for a counselor to work with his athletes over the years. Ever since the accident in January, the counselor has been diligently taking care of the parents and the girls. The Mambas have all come together to support one another during this tragic time since a large part of the Mamba family has been forever changed.

Annika will soon be going to high school but continues to be a very active Mamba Sports Academy player. The rigorous training has continued just as Kobe would have expected. When asked, the Jiwani family said they feel “blessed to have been around him and have spent so much time with him.” Many well known high schools have reached out to Annika and she is still considering all the options and deciding where to go. For all the Jiwani siblings, many changes are on the horizon.


Amaan Jiwani looking for an opening.
Amaan Jiwani looking for an opening.

Amaan Jiwani, the oldest sibling, is a current high school senior and will be attending UC Davis in the Fall. He is planning to pursue a career in medicine. His sportsmanship complements his drive for excellence in academics. Amaan was awarded the First Team All-League and the All-League California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) for his performance in basketball. In addition, he has been an avid advocate for social change in the mental health space by creating an app with his father, Feel Space.

FeelSpace.org is a messaging platform for students and school counselors to communicate with some degree of anonymity. This app helps create a safe space for teenagers dealing with mental health issues. Amaan and his father Aftab have created this free platform and given it to many schools to facilitate communities dealing with often stigmatized mental health problems.

Amaan created this app after recognizing the burden of anxiety on high-achievers and athletes. While he was in eleventh grade, one of his dear classmates had been silently battling depression and ultimately committed suicide. This altered his academic trajectory and had a profound impact on wanting to create a positive change. While Amaan will no longer be competitively playing basketball, it has been the backbone of his tenacity and created a discipline that he hopes will endure in the future.

Riyaan Jiwani, at just 17, is already a rising star in the basketball arena. He is an upcoming junior at Pacifica Christian High School. His impressive basketball record is a testament to his innate affinity for the game. He is one of the top six three-point-shooters in California and in the top 25 players in all grades.

Riyaan will pursue basketball professionally and is deeply committed to advancing his skills. As a freshman in high school, he was drafted on the varsity team and was already scouted to play professionally with two colleges. Riyaan has played for the Adidas-sponsored club team, LA Elite. The team was founded in 2013 with a mission to enable young athletes to excel in basketball on and off the court. The team consists of athletes from different grade levels and Riyaan plays at the gold level. When he is off the court, he is extremely creative and enjoys writing songs and singing.

While the world is in quarantine, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the traditional practice of many contact sports. The Jiwani siblings continue to remain committed to their athletic training, meal prepping, weight lifting, and maintaining their stamina to ensure they come out of this as even stronger athletes.