The history of basketball has changed forever.
Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and soon-to-be Hall of Famer, was killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles that also claimed the life of his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
The death of the 41-year-old NBA superstar has brought shock and sadness to the sport, and to the world at large, that will linger for some time to come.
Kobe, who retired from the NBA in 2016, doesn’t need an introduction to most basketball fans. The Black Mamba, as he was affectionately called, was primarily responsible for earning the LA Lakers five NBA championships – three consecutive titles from 1999-02 – and was an NBA Finals MVP twice, as well as the 2008 NBA MVP. Additionally, he was an All-Star 18 times, a member of the All-NBA team 15 times and was selected as part of the All-NBA Defensive Team 12 times. Fourth on the NBA all-time scoring list – he was passed by current Laker LeBron James last week – Bryant is eligible for the NBA Hall of Fame for the first time this year.
Bryant, his daughter and another couple along with their daughter were reportedly flying in Kobe’s private chopper to the site of a basketball tournament were Gianna and the other young girl were to be participants when the crash occurred. Gianna’s love of basketball had turned Kobe into a champion of women’s basketball in post-Lakers days, including attending University of Connecticut women’s games – Gianna had expressed her desire to play for the Huskies.
Witnesses reported seeing the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter in flames before it crashed. Richard Winton, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who happened to be in the area, said on Twitter that the mountains where the accident took place, around Calabasas, CA, were “fogged in,” adding, I heard the [helicopter] sputter and then a boom.”
Outpouring of condolences poured out of all corners of society as the news spread across social media Sunday. But the most profound tributes came from fellow NBA players who opened games on Sunday by taking intentional 24-second violations in tribute. Bryant wore No. 24 upon entering the league with the Lakers in 1996. He later changed to No. 8, and both numbers were retired by the Lakers in 2017.
Throughout his career, he amassed 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists. In his last game, played against the Utah Jazz before retiring in 2016, he recorded 60 points. He was the youngest player, at 34 years of age, in NBA history to have racked up more than 30,000 points.
He remained humble after his achievements, even congratulating James when the Lakers star just surpassed him on the NBA all-time scoring list this past Saturday. He congratulated him on social media for his accomplishment, and James understood what the feat meant.
“It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,” LeBron said. “Seeing him come straight out of high school, 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. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So, just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling and it’s dope.”
Kobe’s legacy extends beyond the court, as well. He has been the official ambassador for After-School All-Stars, an American non-profit organization that provides comprehensive after-school programs to children in thirteen US cities, according to its website. He also founded the Kobe Bryant China Fund (KBCF), which is partnered with the Chinese government-backed Soong Ching Ling Foundation (SCLF). The goal of the KBCF is to raise money, with the help of the SCLF, for education and health programs in China.
He was also an established entrepreneur, having invested in the Bodyarmor SuperDrink company. He purchased a 10% stake in 2014 for $6 million and that valuation grew to around $200 million when The Coca-Cola Company also invested in the company about a year and a half ago. Additionally, in 2016, he had launched the Bryant-Stibel venture capital firm. That entity invests on businesses centered on media, data, gaming and more.
Kobe regularly used helicopters to travel, even climbing on board to make it to games while playing for the Lakers.