Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna killed in helicopter crash; Tiger Woods, Adam Silver and more pay tribute

Retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday

The New York Times January 27, 2020 07:37:06 IST
Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna killed in helicopter crash; Tiger Woods, Adam Silver and more pay tribute

Retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday.

Bryant was among the passengers travelling on board the helicopter. Nine people died in the crash, including the pilot, said Alex Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff, during a news conference.

Authorities declined to identify the victims pending identification by the coroner and notification of their family members.

“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ,” Villanueva said. “That is just wholly inappropriate so we are not going to be going there. We are going to wait until the coroner does their job.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said it sent a team to California on Sunday evening.

Daryl Osby, the Los Angeles County fire chief, said the crash site was difficult to access and that firefighters had to hike to the area.

It was not immediately clear how many passengers the helicopter was approved to transport, and fire officials said it was not immediately clear whether the helicopter was overloaded. They declined to specify the helicopter’s destination.

The NBA sent a confirmation of Bryant’s and Gianna’s deaths to all teams and league employees Sunday afternoon, according to two people familiar with the document.

Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna killed in helicopter crash Tiger Woods Adam Silver and more pay tribute

File image of Kobe Bryant driving into Vince Carter during an NBA game. By Andrew Gombert © 2006 The New York Times

Drafted to the NBA directly out of high school in 1996, Bryant was named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 seasons for the Lakers and helped lead the team to five championships. His hypercompetitive nature led to occasional public disagreements with coaches and other players, but his commitment to winning was never questioned.

The winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2007-08, and the Finals MVP in both 2009 and 2010, Bryant showed a rare commitment to success on both ends of the court, with a resume that included two scoring titles — and an 81-point game in 2006 that is the second-highest single-game total in NBA history — along with 12 appearances on the league’s All-Defence team. He also thrived on the international stage, where he won gold medals for USA Basketball in 2008 and 2012.

In 2016, after various injuries had taken their toll on the longtime superstar, he proved to have one more highlight in him, scoring 60 points in his final game while leading the last-place Lakers to a surprising win over the Utah Jazz.

Off the court, Bryant’s legacy was far more complicated. He was arrested in 2003 after a sexual assault complaint was filed against him in Colorado. A 19-year-old hotel employee claimed that Bryant, who was working to rehabilitate his knee following surgery, had raped her. The legal case against Bryant was eventually dropped, and a civil suit was settled privately out of court, but Bryant publicly apologised for the incident.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said in his statement. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

In retirement, Bryant became something of a champion for women’s sports and expanded his purview, winning an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film Dear Basketball while also creating the web series Detail for ESPN in which he analysed current players.

“My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” he wrote in Dear Basketball, the poem that he wrote to announce his retirement that was the basis for the short film.

He was scheduled to headline the 2020 NBA Hall of Fame nominees.

Among the other victims of the crash was John Altobelli, a longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa, California. “This is a tremendous loss for our campus community,” said Angelica Suarez, president of Orange Coast College, in a statement.

Last year he led the Pirates to the California Community College baseball state championship, their fourth state title under Altobelli. He was named one of the American Baseball Coaches Association coaches of the year.

Among the players Altobelli coached was New York Mets All-Star infielder, Jeff McNeil, in the summer Cape Cod Baseball League. “He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer,” McNeil told ESPN. “Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said a team of 18 people would be immediately involved in its investigation, and that officials were expected to arrive in California from Washington late Sunday.

“Our team will be looking at the history of the pilot and whatever crew was on board,” said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the board. “We’ll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter. We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter and a number of other things.”

NTSB investigations can stretch for months.

Homendy said federal officials were trying to learn the precise configuration of the downed helicopter — a crucial clue in determining the cause of the crash.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Bryant will be best known for inspiring people to play hoops

Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, quickly hailed Bryant as “one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game.”

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” Silver said, adding that Bryant would “be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”

Indeed, Silver, who led the NBA in the final years of Bryant’s career, was certain to note how Bryant had taught Gianna, his daughter who also died in the crash. Silver said the longtime star was “generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.”

Nike helped introduce Bryant’s nickname: The Black Mamba

Bryant was associated with Nike for nearly his entire career. The company, which signed him to a $40 million contract in 2003, said in a statement that it was “devastated by today’s tragic news.”

“We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to Kobe, especially his family and friends,” the statement said. “He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and has had an immeasurable impact on the world of sport and the community of basketball. He was a beloved member of the Nike family. We will miss him greatly. Mamba forever.”

Bryant wore the first in his initial line of signature shoes during the 2005-06 NBA season, including the game in which he scored 81 points in January 2006.

In 2011, the company supported his introduction of the nickname The Black Mamba, releasing a commercial in which he was pitched an idea for an action film by director Robert Rodriguez. And when Bryant was set to retire, the company christened 13 April “Mamba Day”.

Tiger Woods heard “do it for Mamba” on the course. He found out why after finishing his round

Tiger Woods said that he heard cries of “do it for Mamba,” from the gallery as he finished his final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California, but he didn’t understand why. Then Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, broke the news of Bryant’s death as the two walked from the 18th green to hand in his card. Woods could be heard on the CBS broadcast replying, “Excuse me?” to LaCava before he stepped into the clubhouse.

In an interview shortly after, Woods said: “It’s a shocker to everyone and I’m unbelievably sad. One of the more tragic days, I think, well, for me, the reality is just kind of setting in because I was just told probably about five minutes ago.

Woods, 44, and Bryant shared a friendship that dated back to their meteoric rise to the top of their respective sports during the mid-1990s and spanned adversities and scandals as both navigated fame, marriage, parenthood, and injuries. When asked what he would remember about his friend, Woods said: “The fire. He burned so competitively hot. And desire to win. He brought it each and every night on both ends of the floor.”

Players at the NFL’s Pro Bowl reacted and fans chanted “Ko-be”

News of Kobe Bryant’s death reached the NFL’s Pro Bowl game in Orlando, Florida, where public address announcers asked the crowd at Camping World Stadium to observe a moment of silence to commemorate the Lakers star, which the crowd interrupted with chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be.”

In an ESPN interview, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees spoke about Bryant during the second quarter of the game.

“I had so much respect for him as a competitor. I know he inspired so many people in so many different ways,” Brees said. “I mean, one of the great competitors of any generation, not just with sports, but I think just the way he approached a lot of things and what he was doing now after basketball. So I pray for him, I pray for his family. I know we don’t know all the details yet but it’s a tragic loss.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, also interviewed by ESPN, said that Bryant sent him a signed jersey when he was drafted. “That meant a lot,” Jackson said. “That’s one of the GOATs. Him, M.J. and LeBron, them the top three.”

— The governor of California says Bryant “made history.”

California’s governor said the state was mourning “the tragic and untimely death of a California icon and basketball legend.”

“In his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made history with raw talent and unparalleled dedication that raised the bar and paved the way for a newer generation of players,” Governor Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, said in a statement that also cited Bryant’s charity work.

“He was taken too soon and he will be missed,” they said.

Fans react to the news

Some 200 people had huddled together in the foggy Calabasas at the foot of the hill closest to the crash. Several people were wearing Kobe gear and had basketballs.

Paolo Santos, 27, had looked forward to catching a glimpse of his childhood idol at the Lakers game on Tuesday. “I’ve been watching him since I was a kid,” Santos said. “My stomach just hurts.”

“He’s a figure. He’s a legend. He brought LA back. He’s an LA icon. He was a competitor. His drive, shooting in the gym at 4 in the morning. He’s what everyone wants to be.”

Philip Gordon, 45 of Winnetka, California, who was wearing a Kobe bathrobe over a Kobe jersey, Kobe shoes and socks, said he was watching the NFL Pro Bowl when he heard the news. “It’s so surreal,” he said.

“For 20 years I looked up to him. I became a fan of his as a person. It’s a huge loss for the city. He’s an icon beyond any Laker. We love Magic, we love Kareem, but Kobe transcends generations.”

Over in Echo Park Lake, joggers ran past residents of the cluster of tents on the lake’s northwest corner who were gathering around a table of donated food.

One man joined them and asked if the others had heard the news about Kobe Bryant. Immediately, expressions of disbelief rang out.

“No way!” someone said, punctuated with an expletive.

The man insisted it was true.

But slowly the reality set in.

Davon Brown, 29, wearing Laker purple warmup pants and a matching knitted beanie, said he moved to Southern California from New York years ago to play basketball. He saw Bryant as an example both on the court and off.

“He was way beyond Jordan,” he said. “He was more omnipresent.” His game, Brown said, was more like dance.

Basketball, Brown said, has been a lifesaving force for him. And Bryant represented a powerful ethos.

“He had a killer instinct,” he said. “That self-love, that confidence transmutes into play.”

Bryant had been a subject of the conversation among NBA fans this weekend

On Saturday, current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James surpassed Bryant on the league’s all-time scoring list in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bryant congratulated James in a tweet, with a hashtag, #33644, referring to the number of points James had scored to surpass Bryant’s career total of 33,643 points. Before Saturday, Bryant trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone on the list of career points scored.

After the game, James, who joined the Lakers in 2018, spoke at length about what Bryant meant to him, to the team and to the league.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said.

James described his long history with Bryant — how he had admired Bryant’s ability to go from high school to the NBA, how the two had met in Philadelphia where Bryant had insisted upon the value of hard work. Later, Bryant gave a high-school age James a pair of his signature shoes, which James wore in a game even though they were the wrong size.

“I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play,” James said. “One of the all time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”

Alan Blinder, Kevin Draper and Elena Bergeron c.2020 The New York Times Company

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