NBA legend Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant were among the nine killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in the Calabasas region of California. Kobe was 41 and Gianna was 13.
According to The Washington Post, Kobe and Gianna were on their way to a travel basketball game along with Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, their daughter Alyssa, Harbor Day School basketball coach Christina Mauser, middle schooler Payton Chester and Payton’s mother Sarah. The pilot was Ara Zobayan. The accident area was allegedly surrounded by low clouds, which could have contributed to poor visibility. The crash investigation is still ongoing.
Kobe was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 23, 1978. Growing up, he was adept in both basketball and soccer. In 1991, he joined the Lower Merion High School basketball team in his hometown and led them to four state championships. After completing high school, he was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft. Not long after, he was traded to the team where he remained for the rest: the Los Angeles Lakers.
His time in the purple and gold was iconic. His accolades and achievements have led to him being debated as the greatest basketball player of all time. Kobe won the NBA Championship five times. Both of his jersey numbers have been retired by the Lakers after retiring in 2016. He has been named a league All-Star 18 times. He is fourth in the NBA all-time in points, with 33,643. Kobe’s death came almost 14 years to the day where he put up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in a single game on Jan. 22, 2006, which is the second highest number of points scored by one player in one match in NBA history. He also won two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012.
Yet his legacy runs much deeper than the numbers and beyond the court.
He was a husband, married to Vanessa Laine, and had four children. Gianna played basketball and elements of her playing style were heavily compared to her father’s. Kobe and Vanessa owned a charity organization called the “Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.” The charity gave college scholarships to minority students and even raised over $1 million dollars to help fund the Smithsonian Museum of African American History.
The shock over his death was immediately widespread on social media, with countless former and current professional athletes from numerous sports reflecting on and memorializing the “Black Mamba.” Many mentioned his kind, positive and giving personality. A notable tribute was posted by Kobe’s legendary close teammate and rival, Shaquille O’Neal.
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed,” O’Neal tweeted. “My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I’M SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama also gave his condolences on Twitter.
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” 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.”
Shortly before Kobe’s death, Lakers forward LeBron James passed Kobe for third all-time in league scoring. He wrote “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” on his sneakers for his team’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 25. Kobe tweeted that night, “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother” after James’ accomplishment. Though James wrote those phrases on his sneakers for one reason, they took on an entirely different meaning less than 24 hours later. James was seen in tears leaving the Lakers’ plane after returning to Los Angeles following Kobe’s death.
During an NBA game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the visiting Phoenix Suns on the night Kobe passed away, both the Grizzlies and Suns took a 24-second and an eight-second shot clock violation, respectively, in reference to both of Kobe’s jersey numbers that he used during his career. The crowd stood and cheered, and Suns shooting guard Devin Booker was visually emotional during the violations.
On a personal note, I was never a basketball fan growing up, but I recall years of hearing many of my primary school peers yell “Kobe!” when throwing something into a classroom garbage can from a distance. The gesture was a simple yet memorable way that showed how idolized he was by younger generations even as he inched closer to the end of his playing career.
The death of the Bryants and the others on board is a tragedy. The “Black Mamba” has a legacy that will never be forgotten. He was not just a basketball legend, but a role model and shining personality to many the world round.