It’s hard to find anyone who was more beloved in Los Angeles than Kobe Bryant.
He created a passion in fans that may never be duplicated and leaves a hole in the city like no other.
Beyond the court, he was a loving husband, father of four daughters, a businessman, author of best-selling books and an inspiration, urging others to “be persistent, work hard and believe in yourself,” as he shared once on ABC’s Good Morning America.
In a word Bryant was winner, and his legacy will forever span the globe.
For so many, life won’t be the same without the 5-time NBA champion, who played in 18 all-star games and earned two Olympic Gold medals with Team U.S.A. in an illustrious 20-year career with the Lakers.
He tragically died Sunday when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed and burst into flames on a hillside above Calabasas. Bryant’s daughter Gianna, 13, was also on board, ending their lives along with seven others. The aircraft was going to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for Gianna’s game, according to sources. The first 911 call was reported at 9:47 a.m. following the crash.
Gianna was anticipating a game in which her father was expected to coach. On board, all whom will be sorely missed, were other victims, including:
- John Altobelli: The Orange County College baseball coach was on board to attend the basketball game with his daughter
- Keri Altobelli: The wife of John Altobelli, who was traveling with her family.
- Alyssa Altobelli: The daughter of John, and Keri, Alyssa was a teammate of Gianna Bryant at the Mamba Academy.
- Christina Mauser: Served as an assistant girls basketball coach at a K-8 private school in Orange County.
- Sarah and Payton Chester: The mother and daughter were among members on board.
- The ninth victim, the pilot, has yet to be identified.
According to an air traffic control audio conversation, the helicopter was operating under “Special Visual Flight Rules,” captured by website LiveATC.net.
The devastating news of Bryant’s death leaves the basketball world suffering. “It’s going to take a longtime for me to get over this one,” said Jerry West, a Laker’s legend, to CBS Los Angeles. “It felt like I lost a son today. You could arguably say he had the greatest career of anyone (in the NBA).”
Bryant, 41, the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, attended Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania and was recognized as the top high-school basketball player in the country. Following his graduation, he declared for the 1996 NBA draft and picked by the Charlotte Hornets as 13th overall selection. The Hornets then traded him to Los Angeles.
He played the game “with a flare, had a vibe with the fans and was bigger than life,” continued West, fighting back tears.
Kobe’s impact on the game will remain forever.
“To think that I won’t see him, to think his family won’t see him…People loved him, people admired him,” added West. “He definitely was a gift. He was just born with an incredible desire to win. He just wanted to win at all cost. Losing was not in his vocabulary.”
In 2006, Bryant scored 81 points hitting on 28 of 46 shots and 18 of 20 free throws in a 122-104 victory against the Toronto Raptors. It marked the second-highest single-game scoring performance in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 during the 1962 season was better.
While the Lakers appeared headed for defeat in the final game of Bryant’s NBA career in 2016, he finished off his career by dropping in 60 points on 50 in a 101-96 win over Utah in front of a raucous Staples Center crowd.
On Twitter former teammate Shaquille O’Neil wrote: “There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy…My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I’m sick right now.”
Added Kareem Addul-Jabbar, another Laker all-start talent, on Twitter: “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.”
A devout basketball fan, former President Barack Obama, praised Bryant’s play, saying on Twitter: “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to (Kobe’s wife) Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Reacting to Bryant’s loss, West noted: “It wasn’t just his talents on the court, but how great he was off the court that made him so special.”
Howard Beck, a Bleacher Report reporter, told the Today Show on Monday, as tremendous a basketball player, Bryant “was just as passionate about his family, about his daughters as he was about the game.”
As word spread throughout the day of his loss, a makeshift memorial, including flowers, candles, and keepsakes, were placed in front of Staples Center – “The House that Kobe Bryant Built,” as singer Alicia Keys pointed out during Sunday’s Grammy Awards inside the arena.
In a touching tribute, West, also a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, 12-time all-star known as “Mr. Clutch” who went on to coach the Lakers, and who felt like a surrogate father to Bryant, concluded: “He had a little extra gold dust sprinkled on him.”