Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players whose international stardom transcended basketball, was killed at age 41 on Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on board, officials said.
The cause of the crash was unknown, and an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board could take months.
Bryant was known to travel frequently by helicopter to avoid Los Angeles’ infamous traffic, dating to his playing days.
His Sikorsky S-76 chopper went down in foggy weather around 10 a.m. (1800 GMT) in hilly terrain in Calabasas, California, about 40 miles (65 kilometer) northwest of central Los Angeles, sparking a brush fire, officials said.
“There were no survivors,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a news conference, saying the manifest showed nine people on board. He declined to identify them.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among those killed, and sent condolences to Bryant’s wife, Vanessa.
“He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary,” Silver said, as tributes poured in from players, politicians and entertainers.
Among the others on board, in addition to the pilot, were a teammate from Bryant’s daughter’s basketball team and a parent of the teammate, NBC News reported.
Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was also one of the victims, the Orange County Register reported, citing assistant coach Ron La Ruffa.
Bryant’s death sent shockwaves through the NBA.
In San Antonio, the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs paid their respects by allowing the 24-second clock to expire on each of their first possessions. Bryant wore No. 24 for much of his career.
“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed,” tweeted Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal. “My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
“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,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time NBA scoring leader, said on Twitter.
Stunned fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles around a wreath with a message: “Kobe we love you RIP.” Some in the crowd dabbed tears as others laid flowers and basketball sneakers at the wreath.
“This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
The US Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.
Bryant won five NBA championships with the Lakers and was named an NBA all-star 18-times in his 20-year career with the team. He was third leading scorer in league history with 33,643 points until LeBron James passed him on Saturday.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, have four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.
Bryant’s star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show business stars in Los Angeles.
In 2018 he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.”
But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.
Bryant denied the claims and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.
Reuters, The Associated Press