LOS ANGELES (KTLA/AP) — 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, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.
Bryant died near Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. A different person familiar with the case confirmed that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed.
Both spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the crash had not been released publicly. The crash happened around 10 a.m. about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said it was a Sikorsky S-76 and it was not known what caused the crash. The LA County Sheriff’s Department initially confirmed five dead in the crash, but later said the flight manifest indicated that nine people were on board.
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.
The NTSB sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. NTSB generally issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned.
The Sikorsky S-76 “is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter crash litigation. “But parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”
The crash occurred about 20 miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s basketball training complex in Thousand Oaks, California.
Bryant, who had four daughters with his wife, Vanessa, dedicated himself to boosting women’s sports in his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players. Gianna, better known as Gigi, was a talented basketball player.
Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”
“Ït 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.”
On Saturday night, James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball player to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers.”
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
News of Bryant’s death inspired an outpouring of grief around the sports world and beyond, but it was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where Bryant was unquestionably the most popular athlete and one of the city’s most beloved public figures. Bryant’s popularity remained strong in his adopted hometown even after his arrest in 2003 and a felony sexual assault charge that was eventually dropped at the request of the accuser.
The Western Conference-leading Lakers’ next game isn’t until Tuesday night against the crosstown rival Clippers, but hundreds of fans — many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping openly and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image.
The NBA kept its games on as scheduled when the news broke, but the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honor of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped.
Along with his work boosting women’s sports, Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball,” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.
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. In December 2017, the Lakers hung banners retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the Staples Center rafters in an unprecedented double honor.
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 after passing Bryant’s career scoring mark.
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 a rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.
Bryant and Gasol formed the nucleus of another championship team in 2008, reaching three straight NBA Finals and eventually winning two more titles.
Between those title runs, Bryant accomplished innumerable feats including an 81-point game against Toronto in January 2006. Bryant’s final NBA seasons were dogged by injuries, but he still went into retirement with a jaw-dropping 60-point game against Utah.
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