Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in helicopter crash

Kobe Bryant in December 2017
Kobe Bryant in December 2017

Retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Bryant was among the passengers traveling on board the helicopter Sunday. Five people were confirmed deceased, with no survivors, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter. An investigation is ongoing.

The NBA sent a confirmation of Bryant’s and Gianna’s deaths to all teams and league employees Sunday afternoon, according to two people familiar with the document.

Drafted to the NBA directly out of high school in 1996, Bryant was named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 seasons for the Lakers and helped lead the team to five championships. His hypercompetitive nature led to occasional public disagreements with coaches and other players, but his commitment to winning was never questioned.

The winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2007-08, and the Finals MVP in both 2009 and 2010, Bryant showed a rare commitment to success on both ends of the court, with a resume that included two scoring titles — and an 81-point game in 2006 that is the second-highest single-game total in NBA history — along with 12 appearances on the league’s All-Defense team. He also thrived on the international stage, where he won gold medals for USA Basketball in 2008 and 2012.

In 2016, after various injuries had taken their toll on the longtime superstar, he proved to have one more highlight in him, scoring 60 points in his final game while leading the last-place Lakers to a surprising win over the Utah Jazz.

Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and five-time champion, retired in 2016, having won Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 2008 and 2012.

In retirement, Bryant had expanded his purview, winning an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.” He was scheduled to headline the 2020 NBA Hall of Fame nominees.

Fans react to the news.

Some 200 people had huddled together in the foggy Calabasas at the foot of the hill closest to the crash. Several people were wearing Kobe gear and had basketballs.

Paolo Santos, 27, had looked forward to catching a glimpse of his childhood idol at the Lakers game Tuesday. “I’ve been watching him since I was a kid,” Santos said. “My stomach just hurts.”

“He’s a figure. He’s a legend. He brought LA back. He’s an LA icon. He was a competitor. His drive, shooting in the gym at 4 in the morning. He’s what everyone wants to be.”

Philip Gordon, 45 of Winnetka, California, who was wearing a Kobe bathrobe over a Kobe jersey, Kobe shoes and socks, said he was watching the NFL Pro Bowl when he heard the news. “It’s so surreal,” he said.

“For 20 years I looked up to him. I became a fan of his as a person. It’s a huge loss for the city. He’s a icon beyond any Laker. We love Magic, we love Kareem, but Kobe transcends generations.”

Over in Echo Park Lake, joggers ran past residents of the cluster of tents on the lake’s northwest corner who were gathering around a table of donated food.

One man joined them and asked if the others had heard the news about Kobe Bryant. Immediately, expressions of disbelief rang out.

“No way!” someone said, punctuated with an expletive.

The man insisted it was true.

But slowly the reality set in.

Davon Brown, 29, wearing Laker purple warmup pants and a matching knitted beanie, said he moved to Southern California from New York years ago to play basketball. He saw Bryant as an example both on the court and off.

“He was way beyond Jordan,” he said. “He was more omnipresent.” His game, Brown said, was more like dance.

Basketball, Brown said, has been a lifesaving force for him. And Bryant represented a powerful ethos.

“He had a killer instinct,” he said. “That self-love, that confidence transmutes into play.”

Bryant had been a subject of the conversation among NBA fans this weekend.

On Saturday, current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James surpassed Bryant on the league’s all-time scoring list in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bryant congratulated James in a tweet, with a hashtag, #33644, referring to the number of points James had scored to surpass Bryant’s career total of 33,633 points. Before Saturday, Bryant trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone on the list of career points scored.

After the game, James, who joined the Lakers in 2018, spoke at length about what Bryant meant to him, to the team and to the league.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said.

James described his long history with Bryant — how he had admired Bryant’s ability to go from high school to the NBA, how the two had met in Philadelphia where Bryant had insisted upon the value of hard work. Later, Bryant gave a high-school age James a pair of his signature shoes, which James wore in a game even though they were the wrong size.

“I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play,” James said. “One of the all time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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