Tributes to Kobe Bryant now stand throughout Los Angeles and outside of Staples Center — "The House That Kobe Built." (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Tributes to Kobe Bryant now stand throughout Los Angeles and outside of Staples Center — "The House That Kobe Built." (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

From Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, people across the country and the basketball world continue to respond with shock and grief over the sudden death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, killed in a helicopter crash Sunday.

On NBA courts Sunday night, players deliberately forced penalties to honor #24 who, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others, died after their craft struck a Los Angeles hillside shortly after takeoff.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a press conference Sunday that nine people were on board the helicopter in Calabasas shortly before 10 a.m. PST Sunday morning.

“All the survivors on board were determined to have been killed,” said LA County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby noting that there had been heavy cloud cover and adverse conditions, including thick fog.

Bryant and GiGi had been headed to Mamba Academy for her basketball practice and game. Another teammate and her parents also died in the crash. Bryant often used his personal helicopter to make the commute between his home in Orange County to the Academy, which is located in Thousand Oaks.

Other victims included: Ara Zobayan, the pilot; John Altobelli, head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa and his wife, Keri and their daughter, Alyssa; Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah Chester; and Christina Mauser.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to lead an investigation that is looking into the pilot, helicopter maintenance records and the weather conditions at the time the helicopter took off for reasons behind the accident.

Since retiring. Bryant became deeply involved in the lives of his four children, according to media reports. He often took his 17-year-old Natalia to his NBA games. He, his wife and their three children appeared courtside during his retirement tour. Seven months ago, they celebrated the birth of their fourth child.

Bryant had recently been spotted with his daughter GiGi at various NBA games. He often posted videos of her playing basketball and when a reporter suggested that Bryant might be disappointed for not having a son to follow in his footsteps, she jumped forward, expressing that she would continue the family legacy in basketball.

Another NBA legend and close friend of Bryant’s shared his thoughts about the tragedy.

“Laker Nation, the game of basketball and our city, will never be the same without Kobe. Cookie and I are praying for Vanessa, his beautiful daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri, as well as his parents Joe and Pam and his sisters. We will always be here for the Bryant family,” said Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, entered the NBA draft after high school during which the Charlotte Hornets selected him as the 13th overall pick. The Hornets then traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He spent 20 years in the NBA, all with the Lakers. During his career, he won five championships, would be voted as an all-star 18 years, was chosen as a member of the All-NBA Team 15 years and captured the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

Former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, part of the Lakers’ lineup when they won three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002, stated on social media that he’s still trying to accept the reality of his friend’s death.

“Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man,” O’Neal said on Twitter. “That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah.”

Lakers icon Kareem Abdul Jabbar echoed O’Neal’s sentiments.

“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,” he said on Twitter.

Bryant quickly emerged as one of the top players in the NBA upon joining the Lakers – a position he would hold until being sidelined after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in 2013 at age 34. Although he recovered from that injury, he suffered season-ending injuries to his knee and shoulder and retired after the 2015–16 season.

The NBA superstar in whose footsteps many believe Kobe followed, exciting the next generation of basketball fans, shared his thoughts.

“Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me,” tweeted Michael Jordan on Sunday.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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1 Comment

  1. I was at home when I heard the news, around 8pm GMT. I’d just sat down on the sofa for a rest and opened the Instagram app to see a photo of Kobe Bryant and something like ‘RIP to the greatest’ from another NBA player. I was a bit confused, but didn’t want to make any assumptions to opened BBC News where the headline was ‘NBA Legend Kobe Bryant dies in helicopter crash’.

    It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been saddened to the brink of tears on hearing of the death of somebody I never met.

    When I was younger a family friend got me into basketball. It’s not that big in the UK. At the time Michael Jordan was at his prime and I loved watching Michael play. Then I remember seeing a young kid – who probably looked the same age as me at the time, ~13 – playing for the LA Lakers and that was it, from that moment on I was a Lakers and Kobe fan.

    Since my mid-teens he’s been my idol. He was the greatest player ever to me, and really seems to be a good guy away from the game too.

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