NBA great Kobe Bryant and 13-year-old daughter die in helicopter crash
Kobe Bryant was hailed as an “extraordinary” athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions 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.
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.”
Born in Philadelphia in 1978, Bryant, who was married to wife Vanessa and had three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to appear in the NBA and spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Gianna was a promising player herself, who Bryant had previously said would carry on his legacy.
He was drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets at number 13, but was quickly traded to the Lakers where he would go on to become an 18-time NBA All-Star.
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.
O’Neal tweeted: “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW”.
Bryant, who was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, would add two more NBA titles – in 2009 and 2010 – and on both occasions was named Finals MVP.
The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s shirt numbers – eight and 24 – in a ceremony in December 2017, when then franchise president Magic Johnson said: “We’re here to celebrate the greatest who has ever worn the purple and gold.”
Johnson tweeted on Sunday: “I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken. I love him, his family and what he stood for on the court and off the court.”
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.”
Lakers byword Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said on Twitter: “Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
Bryant stood third in the all-time NBA points list until Saturday night, when current Laker LeBron James pushed him down to fourth place. Bryant scored 33,643 points in his NBA career.
James had told NBA.com after the game: “I’m just happy to be in any conversation with Kobe Bryant, one of the all-time greats to ever play.”
Bryant tweeted on Saturday night: “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother.”
James has yet to respond publicly to Bryant’s death, although he appeared to be overcome by emotion after landing in Los Angeles ahead of Tuesday night’s game against city rivals the Clippers on Tuesday at Staples Center.
The Lakers have also not commented as they take in the news, with fans congregating at Staples to pay tribute.
Bryant scored 81 points in one game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 – the second most in any NBA game by an individual player behind Wilt Chamberlain – and dropped 60 in his final game before retirement in 2016.
Bryant was also part of the United States’ NBA-winning Olympic squads in 2008 and 2012, while after his retirement he and animator Glen Keane won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for ‘Dear Basketball’ – which Bryant wrote and narrated.
The National Basketball Players Association called his death “a monumental loss for the entire basketball community”.
His impact on the game could be seen as sporting stars from around the world made tributes to Bryant on social media.
The likes of Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Diego Maradona, Simone Biles and Usain Bolt paid tribute, while politicians and celebrities including Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Justin Bieber also paid their respects.
Golfer Tigers Woods said he only found out about his friend’s death after finishing his final round at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
The 15-time major winner, who is a life-long Lakers fan, told the PGA Tour: “It’s a shocker to everyone. Unbelievably sad and one of the more tragic days…for me the reality is just setting in.”
Asked what he remembers about Bryant, Woods added: “The fire. He burned so competitively hot and the desire to win. He brought it each and every night, on both ends of the floor. Not too many guys can say that throughout the NBA history.”
Fans were quick to leave flowers and other tributes to Bryant outside the Lakers’ arena the Staples Center on Sunday as well as Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks.
Emotional tributes were held before a number of the day’s NBA games, as well as the NFL’s Pro Bowl in Orlando.
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, while Paris St Germain forward Neymar made a ’24’ gesture with his hands after scoring against Lille in Ligue 1.