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, was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others Sunday. He was 41.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said at a news conference that there were nine people on board the aircraft and that there were no survivors.
Bryant was reportedly on his way to a basketball game for his 13-year-old daughter Gianna when the crash happened, according to multiple news reports.
Reports said Bryant was planning to coach the game in nearby Thousand Oaks.
Also killed were John Altobelli, head coach of Southern California's Orange Coast College baseball team, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same team as Bryant's daughter, said his brother, Tony, who is the sports information director at the school according to The Associated Press.
“God bless their souls,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at the news conference.
Authorities had earlier confirmed only five deaths.
There was no immediate confirmation about the identities of the others who perished.
Entertainment news outlet TMZ was the first to report that Altobelli was on board. His death was later confirmed by Orange Coast College.
Altobelli was selected as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s national coach of the year after leading his team to a state championship, according to the Orange County Register. He was entering his 24th season as Orange Coast College’s coach.
An official with the sheriff's department criticized TMZ for reporting the identities of those who died before family members were notified.
The crash happened around 10 a.m. about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles on a remote, steep hillside, near Calabasas, according to The Associated Press.
Reports said the crash may have first been reported as a brush fire.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the chopper was a Sikorsky S-76 and it was not known what caused the crash, which remains under investigation.
The National Transportation and Safety Board said it was sending a team of 18 investigators to the crash site, according to reports.
Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County for much of his adult life, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic.
Even as a player, he often traveled to practices and games by helicopter, and he kept up the practice after retirement as he attended to his business ventures.
Reports said the weather may have been foggy at the time of the accident.
Colin Storm, a resident near the crash site, was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter,” he said.
“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 a bit and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
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.”
Around the NBA and the world, multiple tributes were poured out to Bryant on social media and television after the accident.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent condolences, saying the entire league is devastated.
Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal took to Twitter to express his sadness.
“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother,” he wrote.
Michael Jordan issued a statement through his spokesperson:
The NBA Players Association issued a statement via Twitter saying it was “stunned and devastated.”
President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama both gave statements on Twitter.
Later in the day, Trump tweeted again about Bryant.
Former first couple Bill and Hillary Clinton also issued a statement.
Nike issued a statement on Twitter.
In the wake of the news, thousands of grieving fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where a makeshift memorial began to take shape.
Across the street at the Grammy Awards, a pre-telecast ceremony opened with a moment of silence for Bryant.
Gospel star Kirk Franklin was the first artist at the gala to acknowledge Bryant. After receiving a Grammy for best gospel performance/song, Franklin closed his speech with thoughts of Bryant. “Sending prayers to Kobe Bryant and his family. Blessings.”
According to The Associated Press NBA players were in tears during pre-game warmups as crowds chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” Tiger Woods was unaware of the news during his final round at Torrey Pines in San Diego when he started hearing the gallery yell “Do it for Mamba,” referring to Bryant by his nickname.
People were glued to their phones and TV screens all around the world as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage, AP reported.
A visibly shaken LeBron James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked away alone from the Lakers plane that had just landed in Southern California.
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 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. ... He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”
Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life. He entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally.
The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest as an upstart rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.
— Compiled by ArLuther Lee for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is a developing story. Please return to AJC.com for updates.
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