Tributes paid to ‘extraordinary’ and ‘inspirational’ Kobe Bryant

Tributes have poured in for Kobe Bryant from around the world after the basketball great died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.

The five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in the incident in California on Sunday morning.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people, including the pilot, had died in the crash but was awaiting the coroner’s report before confirming any identities as it would be “inappropriate” to do so.

Thousands gathered in Los Angeles – where Bryant spent his entire glittering 20-year NBA career – to pay tribute with a vigil outside the Staples Center, home of the shooting guard’s LA Lakers team.

A shrine to Bryant – who became an Oscar winner in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film for ‘Dear Basketball’, which he wrote and narrated – has been set up outside the stadium, complete with candles, flowers and photographs from fans.

The light towers surrounding Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in purple and gold on Sunday, in homage to the colours of Bryant’s Lakers jersey.

Los Angeles City Hall was similarly lit up in the famous purple.

Basketball and sporting figures from around the world also paid tribute to a man, who was hailed as an “extraordinary” athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions of people.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the organisation was “devastated” by the news.

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” he said in a statement.

“He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals.

“But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.”

Former England football captain David Beckham, who played for the LA Galaxy from 2007-12 and was a friend of Bryant’s, paid his own personal tribute.

Writing on his Instagram page, Beckham said: “It’s taken me hours to work out what to write and still my words won’t ever be enough to describe how I am feeling after the tragic loss of Kobe.

“This was one special athlete, husband, father and friend. Having to write these words is hard enough but also knowing we have lost an amazing human being and his beautiful and talented daughter Gianna is heartbreaking.

“The commitment Kobe showed to his sport was inspiring, to go through the pain and to finish a game off like only he could inspired me to try to be better.

“He was determined to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to embrace the sport that he loved. His legacy will live on. ”

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Bryant, who won gold medals with the US men’s basketball team in 2008 and 2012, “embraced the power of sport to change people’s lives”.

Bach added on the official Olympics Twitter account: “After retiring from the game he loved so much, he continued to support the Olympic Movement and was an inspiration for the Olympic Games LA 2028.

“We will all miss his energy and his humble nature.”

Rafael Nadal, the world number one men’s tennis player, said: “He has been one of the greatest sportsmen in history. He has been a true inspiration for the world of sport.

“It’s one of those days you want to forget but of course Kobe Bryant will be in our hearts and in our minds for the rest of our lives.”

Bryant, who was married to wife Vanessa and had three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, became an 18-time NBA All-Star during a career that saw him transcend the sport.

He was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008 and is the fourth highest scorer in the history of the NBA with 33,643 points, pushed down the list by current Laker LeBron James as recently as Saturday night.

The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s shirt numbers – eight and 24 – in a ceremony in December 2017, when then franchise president Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson said: “We’re here to celebrate the greatest who has ever worn the purple and gold.”

Alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant helped the Lakers win three NBA championships in a row between 2000 and 2002.

It is a feat that has not been matched since, with the Golden State Warriors losing in last year’s finals having won two in a row. Bryant won further NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.

Michael Jordan, arguably the most famous basketball player of all time, described Bryant as like his “little brother”.

He said to Sports Illustrated: “I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling.

“I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much.

“He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply – and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball.”

The NBA schedule continued on Sunday, with teams purposely taking 24-second shot-clock violations and eight-second back-court violations to start the game in tribute to Bryant.

A viral petition has also been set up following Bryant’s death to immortalise him as the new NBA logo.

By mid-afternoon on Monday UK time, the petition had over 200,000 signatures.

In Italy, the country where he lived between the ages of six and 14 as his father Joe was a professional basketball player there, Bryant is also being mourned.

The Italian Basketball Federation said on Monday it has ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.”

“It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honour the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the Federation said.

“Kobe was and will always be linked to our country.”