National Basketball Association (NBA) legend Kobe Bryant (41) died Sunday in a helicopter crash in suburban Los Angeles; five people are confirmed dead in the incident. The crash was reported in the hills near Calabasas. His daughter Gianna (13), who was onboard the helicopter, is among the casualties. Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was also among those who died in the crash, The Los Angeles Times reported. The publication quoted eyewitnesses claiming that the helicopter flew into a curtain of fog, after which they saw a "fireball". The cause of the accident is not immediately known.
The incident came only hours after the former Los Angeles Lakers star, 41, was passed by current Lakers star LeBron James for third on the all-time NBA scoring list.
The son of Joe Bryant—also a college basketball player with appearances for San Diego Clippers and the Houston Rockets—and Pam Cox, Kobe had skipped college and gone in for the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, before impressing Lakers manager Jerry West and signing his first NBA contract at 17 in 1996. After two seasons where he showed glimmers of brilliance, he had his breakthrough after forging a partnership with Shaquille O'Neal; the duo guided the Lakers to back-to-back titles in the early 2000s. However, the partnership went through some trying times, with some personal disagreements and feuds surfacing between the duo. O'Neal later moved to Miami. “There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother,” O’Neal tweeted. “I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
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. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
Bryant was symbolised by his iconic No. 24 jersey, and was nicknamed the 'Black Mamba'. In 2006, he scored a record, career-topping 81 points against Toronto. He won two Olympic gold medals with the US basketball team in 2008 and 2012. He retired after the 2015-2016 season, citing niggling injuries. Bryant is married to Vanessa, and has four daughters—Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri.
US president Donald Trump tweeted: "Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news!"
Former US president Barack Obama wrote that "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."
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 Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
"The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals. He will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability."
Two of the greatest players of all-time, Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, praised Bryant as one of the best, both on the court and off it. "Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players," tweeted Abdul-Jabaar. "But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete."