Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest NBA players of his generation, died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, according to multiple reports. He was 41 years old.
Soon after TMZ first reported the news, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tweeted that five people had died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in the hills above Calabasas, a northwest suburb of Los Angeles; later that day, the department said that a total of nine people were aboard the helicopter and died in the crash. ESPN, among other media outlets, confirmed that Bryant was among those dead in the crash. According to a Los Angeles Times report, which quoted a sheriff’s department watch commander, the helicopter crash happened around 10 a.m. and “ignited a brush fire and made it difficult for firefighters and emergency personnel to get to the aircraft.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Bryant was on his way to a travel basketball game with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who also died in the crash. According to Wojnarowski, another player on the travel team and that player’s parent were among the people onboard.
Bryant retired in 2016 after a 20-year career, all with the Los Angeles Lakers, during which he won five NBA championships and was named to 18 All-Star teams and 15 All-NBA teams. Bryant also won two gold medals as a member of Team USA at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. His final NBA game, in April 2016, was a perfect encapsulation of the Lakers legend: In a thrilling performance, he shot the ball 50 times and scored 60 points. The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s jersey numbers, 8 and 24, in a ceremony at Staples Center in 2017.
Bryant scored 33,643 points in his career, which ranked third in NBA history at the time of his retirement. On Saturday, current Laker LeBron James passed him for third; Bryant tweeted his support shortly thereafter:
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
In 2003, Bryant was arrested in Colorado after a 19-year-old hotel employee filed a sexual assault complaint against Bryant, saying Bryant had raped her. Bryant denied the account, and though charges were dropped after the victim did not testify in court, a civil lawsuit was later settled out of court.
After his retirement, Bryant was often seen at NBA and WNBA games, including a handful of Lakers games where he sat courtside. Away from basketball, Bryant started a company called Granity Studios, which focused on developing books, podcasts, TV shows, and movies. He also won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2018.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote in a statement. “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary. … But 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. He 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.”
Following the news Sunday, several NBA teams opened their games by allowing the 24-second shot clock to expire, in honor of Bryant’s no. 24. The Spurs then did the same. Austin Rivers was also shown tearing up while getting ready to play in a game between the Rockets and Nuggets in Denver, where a moment of silence was held pregame.
As part of a series of tweets, Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson wrote of Bryant, “I love him, his family and what he stood for on the court and off the court.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers broke down several times while addressing Bryant’s death before the Clippers’ game in Orlando:
Numerous NBA players reacted with tweets expressing their shock. Joel Embiid tweeted that he began playing basketball because of Bryant, while Hawks guard Trae Young wore no. 8 on Sunday, rather than his usual no. 11. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also announced that the team will retire no. 24 in honor of Bryant.
Michael Jordan, against whom Bryant was endlessly compared throughout his career, released a statement:
Statement from Michael Jordan pic.twitter.com/AqLsRWMxl9— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) January 26, 2020
Former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, a three-time championship teammate of Bryant’s as well as an occasional sparring partner, tweeted later on Sunday: “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through.”
Bryant was born August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia to Pam and Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, who played for the 76ers at the time. From age 6 to 13, Bryant lived in Italy while his father played professionally in the LBA. (Bryant, who spoke fluent Italian, nearly followed in his father’s footsteps. During the 2011 NBA lockout, he almost played for Virtus Bologna, but the deal fell through.) Kobe returned to Pennsylvania and attended Lower Merion High School, where he won a state title in 1996 and was named Naismith Prep Player of the Year as a senior.
Bryant is survived by his wife of 18 years, Vanessa Bryant, and their three daughters, Natalia (17), Bianka (3), and Capri Kobe Bryant, who was born in June 2019. Gianna, known as Gigi, was often seen courtside with her father. A basketball player herself, she had ambitions to one day play for UConn.
This piece has been updated with additional information after publication.