By Danny R. Johnson/Entertainment News Editor
LOS ANGELES–The retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday. Bryant was among the passengers traveling 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. 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 N.B.A. 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.
The other victims of the crash included John Altobelli, a longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa. Calif., as well as Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa, university officials said.
At the arena where Bryant put his stamp on the Lakers and the N.B.A., the Staples Center, his death cast a pall over a typically ebullient event: the Grammy Awards.
The show’s host, Alicia Keys, paid tribute to Bryant during the opening of the CBS broadcast, performing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with the R&B group that made the song popular, Boyz II Men.
“Here we are, together on music’s biggest night celebrating the artists that do it best, but to be honest with you we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero,” Keys said. “And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
A spotlight shined on Bryant’s retired No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys up in the rafters of the Staples Center.
The music industry’s top stars mourned Bryant leading up to the show, from Taylor Swift to Demi Lovato and John Legend.
Outside the Mamba Sports Academy, the non-profit Bryant founded with his wife Vanessa in Thousand Oaks, Calif., fans laid flowers and lit candles at an impromptu memorial for their star. The gym had handwritten signs on the door: Closed.
A few dozen people, adults of all ages, stood huddled in silence around the memorial of several jerseys, candles, dozens of bouquets, Sports Illustrated magazines with Bryant on the cover, and a Lakers flag. Written on one bouquet was “We love you Kobe and Gigi.” Another card, the shape of a Lakers basketball, read, “The day we lost a legend: 1-26-20 Thank you for being a role model for me and for others.”
Bryant was on his way to the academy to coach his daughter when the helicopter crashed, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge details of the ongoing investigations.
The academy was hosting the Mamba Cup Tournament Series, a series of tournaments for boys and girls basketball teams from the third through eighth grades. All the games were canceled after the news of Bryant’s death became public.
Drafted to the N.B.A. 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 N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award for the 2007-2008 season, and the N.B.A. finals M.V.P. in both 2009 and 2010, Bryant showed a rare commitment to success on both ends of the court, with a résumé that included two scoring titles — and an 81-point game in 2006 that is the second-highest single-game total in N.B.A. history — along with 12 appearances on the league’s All-Defense team. He also thrived on the international stage, where he won gold medals for U.S.A. Basketball in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
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 apologized for the incident.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize 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 analyzed 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 N.B.A. Hall of Fame nominees.
Among the other victims of the crash was John Altobelli, 56, a longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa. Calif. “This is a tremendous loss for our campus community,” said Angelica Suarez, the president of Orange Coast College, in a statement.
Juan Gutierrez, a spokesman for Orange Coast College, said that Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa also died in the crash.
Last year, Altobelli 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 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.”
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 2005-2006 N.B.A. 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 the director Robert Rodriguez. And when Bryant was set to retire, the company christened April 13 as “Black Mamba Day.”
On Saturday, the 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 had stood third only to 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 N.B.A., 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.”
The late great tennis legend and Civil Rights champion, Arthur Ashe, spoke these words in a commencement speech delivered on May 12, 1991 at Wesleyan University: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
Kobe Bryant’s greatest love and passion was being the family man and a good father to his four children. By the mere fact that he was a basketball coach of his daughter Gianna, and they were in route to a basketball tournament when they perish on January 26, is testament to his true heroism and his desire and urge to serve others at whatever cost.
The Legendary Heroism of Kobe Bryant “The Black Mamba” Will Endure Through The Ages.