The NBA, and much of America, was in shock on Sunday after Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players in history, died in a helicopter crash. He was 41.
Bryant was on board the helicopter with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, when it crashed at 10am local time near Calabasas, 30 miles north-west of downtown Los Angeles, in foggy weather. The crash ignited brushfires, making it hard for rescue crews to get close to the site. There were no survivors. Bryant, who lived in the area for most of his life often used helicopters to beat Los Angeles’ heavy traffic, and on Sunday he was taking Gianna to play in a basketball game at his academy outside the city.
“We received a call just before 10am this morning of an aircraft down in the Malibu area, right off of Las Vergenes, essentially Calabasas,” Tony Imbrenda of the Los Angeles county fire department, told reporters at the scene. “Some folks were out here mountain biking this morning, they saw an aircraft in distress, they went down into the hillside. This was a helicopter, it’s been confirmed it was an S-76 Sikorsky helicopter and unfortunately there were no survivors.”
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board said they will investigate the accident.
Bryant’s talent was obvious from an early age, and he was already attracting national attention while still in high school. Unlike most NBA players, he went straight from school to the NBA, foregoing a college career. He played his entire, 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won five championships with the team and was named an All-Star on 18 occasions. He retired in 2016 as the NBA’s third-highest all-time scorer. He also won gold medals with Team USA at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, said in a statement.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. 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.”
Donald Trump called the death of Bryant and his daughter “devastating” as he offered his condolences. “Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating,” wrote Trump on Twitter.
Trump’s predecessor as US president, Barack Obama, also paid his respects. “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” he wrote on Twitter. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
Bryant moved into the media following his retirement and in 2018 he won an Oscar for best animated short for a film called Dear Basketball, based on a poem he wrote about his retirement from the game.
However, Bryant’s reputation was tarnished after he was arrested in 2003 over accusations he had raped a teenager at a hotel in Colorado. Bryant denied the allegations, saying the encounter had been consensual. The case was dropped after the alleged victim refused to testify at trial. Bryant later apologised to the woman, saying “I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did”. Bryant and the woman later settled a separate civil suit out of court.
On Saturday night another NBA legend, LeBron James, had paid tribute to Bryant after passing him to become the third-highest scorer in the league’s history.
“He is someone that I used as inspiration. It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation,” said James.
Related: Kobe Bryant: a life in pictures
Another of Bryant’s fellow Los Angeles Lakers greats, Magic Johnson, gave his thoughts on Sunday’s news. “My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players.”
Players and fans observed a minute’s silence at the first scheduled NBA game on Sunday, an encounter between the Denver Nuggets and the Houston Rockets. Bryant’s name was chanted at the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl game, which took place in Orlando on Sunday as news of his death broke.
The Lakers’ next game is on Tuesday at their home arena, the Staples Center, against their cross-city rivals, the Clippers. Fans gathered outside the arena on Sunday, many wearing jerseys bearing Bryant’s name. “The city is bleeding right now,” said one fan, Edgar Ruiz. “I always felt the energy when he was in the building. That was my idol. Fans were inspired by his work ethic ... it’s hard to take in because he had such a big impact in our community, he did so many great things in LA.”
Bryant was married to Vanessa, with whom he had four daughters, including Gianna. His father, Joe, also played in the NBA.