Kobe Bryant was on his way to a travel basketball game with his daughter, Gianna, plus another player and parent when their helicopter crashed near Calabasas, California Sunday afternoon amid foggy conditions. Everyone on board died. Bryant was 41 years old.
According to the Associated Press, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said it was a Sikorsky S-76 and it was not known what caused the crash.
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers as a prolific scorer with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
Bryant was selected to the NBA All-Star Game eighteen times and won the NBA championship five times, while representing one of basketball’s most glamorous and famous teams.
News of Bryant’s untimely passing spread throughout Los Angeles and the world of sports.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news statement Sunday afternoon. “He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”
NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell paid his respects via Twitter:
“Jeannine & I are absolutely shocked to hear of the loss of one of my favorite people & one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game! Our hearts & prayers to Vanessa & his girls. @kobebryant you were my biggest fan, but I was yours.”
LeBron James remembered when he teamed up with Kobe as they competed in the 2008 Olympics with USA Basketball.
“I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,” James said. “There’s no substitution for work.”
“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. … He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”
“I read one quote from Kobe Bryant,” he said. “And if you have to speak about some examples of professionalism and serial winners, Kobe is a great example. He says: ‘People say that I’m difficult but I’m only difficult for the ones that don’t share my principles.’
Bryant was born in Philadelphia and his father, Joe, played eight NBA seasons in the ‘70s and ‘80s for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and the Houston Rockets. Kobe announced his intentions to forego college and enter the NBA draft in the spring of 1996. He was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night. Because he was 17, Bryant needed his parents to co-sign his first NBA contract.
Quickly, Bryant became a dominant scoring force in the NBA. With the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers rolled to three straight titles from 2000-2002. However, the friction between O’Neal and Bryant drove the Lakers to send Shaq to Miami, effectively handing the reins of the franchise to Kobe.
When the Lakers won another championship in 2009, Bryant was vindicated in his belief that the Lakers are best with him leading the franchise. Kobe’s biggest single-game achievement came Jan. 22, 2006, against the Toronto Raptors when he scored a career-high 81 points, the second most in NBA history. What was more staggering was his final act in a Laker uniform. Kobe scored 60 points as his wife, Vanessa, and their two daughters looked on with awe.
In 2018, he won an Oscar along with director Glen Keane for the animated short film “Dear Basketball.” In the short film, Kobe penned the following words:
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
Kobe Bean Bryant and daughter Gianna are survived by his wife/mother Vanessa and three children/sisters, Natalia, Bianka and Capri.