Miami – It’s like the world stopped. Sunday early afternoon, the chatter began. Text messages, Twitter and Facebook posts began questioning whether it was true: Did the basketball phenom- the greatest player in modern era, the supreme one–Kobe Bryant, die in a helicopter crash in California?
Then, the legitimate news outlets began to conﬁrm the worst possible news. Yes, indeed Kobe Bryant, 41, and the world’s most ﬁerce competitor on the court, and a burgeoning young man off the court since retirement in 2016, had indeed perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., around 9:40 am West Coast time. Upon learning the unfathomable news, it was as though the world stopped spinning. Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna, known as GiGi, and the seven others onboard, did not survive the horriﬁc crash. The shocking news left the sports world and beyond, reeling. Though not conﬁrmed, it appears weather could have been a factor. Dense fog permeated the air so much so, that law enforcement agencies wouldn’t permit their copters to fly.
But Bryant and the others were headed to his Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Newbury Park, where he was set to coach, and Gianna was set to play in the second day of a basketball tournament featuring the young aspiring basketball player, who once told a reporter that she could very well follow in her dad’s hallowed footsteps as a proliﬁc ball player just as if he’d had a son. “I got this,” she told the reporter, when the reporter told Kobe he needed to have a son to carry on his legacy.
1998: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a reverse slam dunk against the Minnesota Timberwolves during an NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. STOCK PHOTO
But now with their lives tragically cut short, the nation won’t get to see Gianna realize her WNBA dreams, nor will the world get to see Bryant give an acceptance speech at the Naismith Hall of Fame later this summer. Kobe Bryant will be honored posthumously as a 2020 inductee in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame ceremony, which is also set to honor Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, will be held in August in Springﬁeld, Mass.
Bryant’s basketball prowess reigned supreme. The 18-time All-Star won ﬁve NBA championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career all with the Lakers. Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers purple and gold. The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a proliﬁc, gifted shooter with a sublime all-around game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.
Taking cues from Michael Jordan, one of his idols, Bryant played with a swagger that compelled him to talk trash, to guard the toughest opponents, to play through pain and to demand the ball at the biggest moments of games. Bryant retired as the Lakers’ franchise leader in points, games played, 3-pointers and steals — no small feat on a franchise that has employed many of the greatest players in basketball history. Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players, most of whom grew up either idolizing Bryant or absorbing his work ethic and competitive spirit in the same way Bryant’s generation learned from Jordan. Bryant exempliﬁed and passed on that mentality to James, Stephen Curry and the NBA’s current wave of high-scoring superstars.
Although he spent most of his career under the guidance of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who recently passed away –current commissioner Adam Silver, was heartbroken over the tragedy. “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” Silver said. “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary … 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.”
NBA and Lakers legend and executive, Magic Johnson also was ﬁlled with grief. “I thought he was going to live forever. I thought he was invincible,” Magic shared with CBS News. “We will always remember what Kobe Bryant did on the court. We will remember what he did off the court and for the city. I do not think right now that we can put it into words what he meant for Los Angeles. I will miss him,” Johnson shared. “When you put on that uniform, the Laker uniform, there was nobody who took more pride in being a Laker than Kobe. It was amazing.”
LeBron James, who broke Bryant’s scoring record just the night before his sudden death, and one who shares the title of supreme on and off the court, posted a heartfelt message to his dear friend: “I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I’m sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have.
“WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life #Gigi4Life”
Kobe Bryant addresses the crowd at halftime as both his #8 and #24 Los Angeles Lakers jerseys are retired at Staples Center on December 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. STOCK PHOTOS
On Saturday night, when James broke Bryant’s record, James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers.” Bryant always reacted graciously to the achievements of James, his former on-court rival who joined the Lakers in 2018. “He had zero flaws offensively,” LeBron James said Saturday night. “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.”
Though sports enthusiasts are pouring their hearts and condolences worldwide, it wasn’t just the sports world that feels the loss so greatly. Presidents of the United States are also grief-stricken. President Barack Obama says he hurts tremendously. “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” Mr. Obama tweeted. “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.”
President Bill and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shared their condolences on Bryant, whom they knew well. “Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and all those who died in today’s helicopter crash. Kobe brought excitement and joy to basketball fans not just in Los Angeles, but all over the U.S. and around the world. He was also a leader off the court, including in his advocacy for young people, especially the vulnerable and homeless — a passion I saw ﬁrsthand when I joined him and Vanessa for the opening of a housing project they and their foundation supported. Kobe Bryant lived a very large life in a very short time. But above all, he loved his family. Our prayers are with Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and all those who lost loved ones today,” the Clintons said.
Fans packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles upon hearing the news and Sports arenas near and far lit up their buildings with purple and gold, honoring the legend. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami was one of them that paid tribute to Bryant. It was particularly painfully in Los Angeles, however, where Bryant was unquestionably the city’s most popular athlete and one of its most beloved people. Buildings from downtown to Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in Lakers purple and gold.
He was also respected by basketball fans from every place else, including his native Philadelphia and in Italy, his other childhood home. Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s heavy trafﬁc. He traveled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended in 2016. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that recently produced an Academy Award-winning animated short ﬁlm. He was quite proud of the ﬁlm, entitled, “Dear Basketball,” and for winning an Oscar for it, in 2018.
Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on Nov. 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. STOCK PHOTOS
Bryant had been spending more time with his daughters since leaving the league. The Bryants’ ﬁrst daughter, Natalia, turned 17 a week ago. Bianka Bella Bryant is 3 years old, and Capri Kobe Bryant was born last June. He had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s soccer and other endeavors. He was a huge proponent of the WNBA, where Gianna had hoped to play.
The upcoming Lakers’ game against the crosstown rival Clippers, was cancelled because many, in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image before the Grammy awards ceremony, which was held there the same night as Bryant’s passing.
Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life, and he grew up from a teenager to a respected veteran in the Hollywood spotlight. He entered the NBA draft straight out of suburban Philly’s Lower Merion High School in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally. Bryant was occasionally estranged from his now-65year-old father, but reconciled.
Bryant spoke four languages and played a major role in the NBA’s international growth over his two decades in the league, traveling the world and connecting with athletes in other sports and celebrities.
In 2003, Bryant went through a challenging time in life when a 19-year old woman accused him of sexual assault. He entered a settlement and an apology and the charges were dropped. He has said the sexual affair was consentual, but admitted the young lady felt it was not. It was a hiccup in Bryant’s life, but he went on to garner the respect of the nation by overcoming the incident and forging ahead and making a difference both on and off the court.
The Rev. Al Sharpton told MSNBC that at the public memorial service for superstar Michael Jackson in 2009 at the Staples Center, Bryant told him he was amazed at how Sharpton handled his speech at a legend’s service. Bryant told Sharpton that honoring someone so large in life could’ve been difﬁcult to do.
Now we mourn Bryant, who is also larger than life.
Note: The Los Angeles Times and CBS News contributed to this story.