Kobe Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, has died in a helicopter crash. He was 41.
The crash happened around 10am (local time) in Calabasas, about 50 kilometres north-west of downtown Los Angeles. The LA Country Sherriff’s department has confirmed nine people were on board, including a pilot, and all have been killed.
Multiple sources have reported Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, was also on board the chopper. A college baseball coach, John Altobelli, was also killed in the crash. The names and identities of the other passengers or the pilot have not been identified.
US Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76 and it was not known what caused the crash. The tail number matches a helicopter Bryant has owned for years.
Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”
“It was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”
A short time later the fog cleared and Mr Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Tony Imbrenda said he didn’t immediately have any information about whether the helicopter radioed a distress signal.
“Individuals that saw the aircraft said it was coming down at a fairly significant rate of speed and impacted the ground on the hillside,” he told reporters.
Mr Imbrenda said he didn’t know where the helicopter came from or where it was headed.
Pictures taken shortly after the crash showed fog in the area. Sunday morning’s weather also included light wind and temperatures around 12C.
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the 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.
“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet.
“Much respect my brother.”
Athletes across all sports have taken to Twitter to share their condolences over the sudden death of the NBA legend.
President Trump called the death of Bryant “terrible news”, and celebrities like Idris Elba and Ellen DeGeneres also paid respects.
One of the NBA’s greatest
Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise.
He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.
Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players.
After James passed Bryant on Saturday, he remembered listening to Bryant when the superstar came to speak at a childhood basketball camp.
“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.”
James later teamed up with Bryant on the 2008 US Olympic team in Beijing.
“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said.
As news of Bryant’s death spread through the NBA today, teams across the league honoured him during their games.
The Toronto Raptors let the 24-second shot clock run out after tip-off during their game with the Spurs as a sign of respect for the legend.
The NBA Players Association also released a statement on Kobe Bryant’s death today:
“We are stunned and devastated by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our Players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family,” the league said.
Ten years ago, GQ Magazine wrote about how Bryant regularly took his own helicopter to work.
“He takes a private helicopter from Orange County, where he lives with his wife and two children, to every home game. It’s a nice dash of glitz, a touch of showbiz (but) Bryant says the helicopter is just another tool for maintaining his body. It’s no different than his weights or his whirlpool tubs or his custom-made Nikes.
“Given his broken finger, his fragile knees, his sore back and achy feet, not to mention his chronic agita, Bryant can’t sit in a car for two hours. The helicopter, therefore, ensures that he gets to Staples Center feeling fresh, that his body is warm and loose and fluid as mercury when he steps onto the court.”
The chopper was adorned with his logo.