N.B.A. Star Kobe Bryant Dies in California Helicopter Crash

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The retired N.B.A. star, 41, and his daughter Gianna were among nine people in a helicopter that crashed near Calabasas, Calif. A college baseball coach and his wife and daughter were also killed.

By Alan BlinderKevin Draper and 

The retired N.B.A. star, 41, was among the passengers in a helicopter that went down in Calabasas, Calif.CreditCredit…Harry How/Getty Images

The retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday.


Sources: Flight path from Flightradar24 By The New York Times

Bryant was among the passengers traveling onboard 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.

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.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles County said the helicopter went down in an area with “very rough terrain,” and that even emergency officials had found it dangerous to reach during daylight on Sunday. The debris field, the sheriff said, was roughly 100 yards in each direction.

Credit…Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Outside the Mamba Sports Academy 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.

Momentarily, a few fans wearing Laker jerseys started chanting “Ko-be! Ko-be!” and then stopped.

Eddie Lugo, 21, placed a throwback No. 8 jersey and candles on the memorial. He wore a blue throwback jersey backward, so that Bryant’s name faced forward.

“I was walking my dog meeting up with my buddy, complimenting my buddy on all the Laker gear, actually, when one of my best friends called,” Lugo said. “We were all just mind blown, we thought it was fake.”

Credit…Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

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 2007-8 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.

The local authorities did not immediately release the identities of the people who were aboard the helicopter, including Bryant, and the chief medical examiner for Los Angeles County, Dr. Jonathan R. Lucas, said it could take several days to recover the bodies from the crash site.

“We will be doing our work thoroughly, quickly and with the utmost compassion,” Lucas said. “We’re doing everything we can to confirm identifications and give closure to the families involved.”

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

The fans who gathered at Staples Center represented the ethnic and racial diversity of Bryant’s professional city.

Leo Márquez, 7, placed a candle at the memorial, his eyes filling with tears. He couldn’t get the words out to explain why he was there.

“He wanted to come because he always watched Kobe on TV with his dad,” said his mother, Alejandra Márquez.

Adam Jackman, 18, a University of Southern California student from New York City, walked from the university to the arena.

“I’m here for the impact that Kobe had on the city of L.A., not just on the court but in the community,” he said. “This is the best place to be with the city as it tries to heal.”

Joe Rivas, 28, a registered nurse, was on a gym treadmill in the town of Cerritos when the news of Bryant’s death flashed on the television.

“The whole place froze,” Rivas said. “It sucked the air out of the room. I couldn’t believe it. I grew up with Kobe. He is my favorite player of all time.”

Rivas said he couldn’t finish his workout. He changed and jumped in his car to drive 25 miles to Staples Center, where he had watched Bryant play his last game in April 2016.

“He was not a perfect man but we all have our faults,” said Rivas, who donned a No. 24 jersey. “It’s beyond basketball.”

Credit…Orange Coast College, via Associated Press

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.”

Credit…Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

To those who played against him, he was a tenacious competitor who won their respect. Many who came after him said he inspired them to pick up the game.

Tributes from other athletes rolled in on Sunday, as Bryant’s friends and rivals shared what he meant to them. Shaquille O’Neal, who won three titles with Bryant on the Lakers, said he would hug Bryant’s children “like they were my own.”

Michael Jordan said in a statement that he spoke to Bryant often and that he was “like a little brother to me.” Dwyane Wade, the former Miami Heat star, said on Instagram that Bryant “was who I chased” and that it was “one of the saddest days in my lifetime.”

Top athletes in other sports shared in the grief. Neymar Jr., the Brazilian soccer star, held up the number 24 with his fingers and pressed his hands together in a prayer motion after scoring a penalty kick for Paris Saint-Germain. Nick Kyrgios wore a yellow No. 8 Bryant jersey as he walked on court for his blockbuster match against the top-seeded Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. Naomi Osaka thanked Bryant “for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses.”

Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback whose kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racism and police brutality inspired a number of athletes to speak out publicly, sat with Bryant last August at the United States Open in the support box for Osaka. He said on Twitter that he would remember Bryant as a “basketball legend, a father & a man.”

Tiger Woods said that he heard cries of “do it for Mamba” from the gallery as he finished his final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, but he didn’t understand why. Then Woods’s caddie, Joe LaCava, broke the news of Bryant’s death as the two walked from the 18th green to hand in his card. Woods could be heard on the CBS broadcast replying, “Excuse me?” to LaCava before he stepped into the clubhouse.

“It’s a shocker to everyone and I’m unbelievably sad,” Woods said in an interview shortly after. “One of the more tragic days, I think, well, for me, the reality is just kind of setting in because I was just told probably about five minutes ago.

Woods, 44, and Bryant shared a friendship that dated back to their meteoric rise to the top of their respective sports during the mid-1990s and spanned adversities and scandals as both navigated fame, marriage, parenthood and injuries. When asked what he would remember about his friend, Woods said: “The fire. He burned so competitively hot. And desire to win. He brought it each and every night on both ends of the floor.”

The Italian Basketball Federation said on Monday that it would hold a moment of silence in every game this week for Bryant, who lived in Italy from ages 6 to 13 while his father played professional basketball there.

Bryant was fluent in Italian, and once said it would be a “dream” to play for the country, but in 2011, when an Italian team, Virtus Bologna, offered him a one-year contract during the N.B.A. lockout, the deal fell through, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the federation said in a statement. Bryant, the statement said, “was and will always be linked to our country.”

Games begin with shot clock tributes.

Teams across the N.B.A. started their Sunday night games by purposely running the shot clock out, taking 24- and 8-second violations in honor of the numbers Bryant wore.

In a number of games, the team winning the opening tip opted to dribble out the 24-second clock or keep the ball in the backcourt for an 8-second violation, followed by the other team returning the gesture. Bryant changed his jersey number to 24 from 8 in 2006.

Fans in the arenas rose for standing ovations, some chanting “Ko-be.” Players and coaches joined in the applause.

The tributes could also be seen in games between New York and BrooklynIndiana and PortlandNew Orleans and BostonSan Antonio and TorontoAtlanta and Washington, and Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the arena where Bryant put his stamp on the Lakers and the N.B.A., 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.

“In Staples Arena, where Kobe created so many memories for all of us, preparing to pay tribute to another brilliant man we lost too soon, Nipsey Hussle,” John Legend wrote on Twitter. “Life can be so brutal and senseless sometimes.”

Credit…Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

The grief over Bryant’s death extended from coast to coast, with his high school alma mater, near Philadelphia, becoming the scene of a spontaneous shrine.

“I was heartbroken,” said Jasmine Strong, 29, who was visiting from Brooklyn and decided to visit Lower Merion High School, where fans brought flowers and other tributes after Bryant’s death. “I’m lost for words.”

She had charted Bryant’s professional career from its start: when he was 17, fresh out of Lower Merion, where he had led the basketball team to a state title in 1996.

“Aces Nation has lost its heartbeat,” Gregg Downer, who coached Bryant, said in a statement.

Indeed, others with ties to the school flocked to the campus on Sunday as word of Bryant’s death spread.

Brittany Ferro, 30, said she had also gone to Lower Merion and had been moved to come with two friends and her newborn son after she learned of Bryant’s death during dinner.

“We were very upset so we wanted to come and pay our respects,” she said. “He was one of the best of his times and he was admired by a lot of people.”

Bryant was a standout at Lower Merion, where he helped to elevate the basketball program to extraordinary heights. Bryant, who dominated the court from any position, was a draw — plenty would say the central draw in the mid-1990s.

“It was quite a treat to watch a future superstar,” said Rob Wilson, who still lives in Lower Merion Township and recalled taking his son to watch the adolescent Bryant play.

Soon after Bryant was drafted, he walked into a local diner while Wilson and his son were there.

“I remember him coming into Ruby’s and pointing him out and saying, ‘That guy’s a future superstar in the N.B.A., right here in our little Ruby’s,” Wilson recalled. “I was very touched by the fact that he was not being swarmed.”

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said the state would “never forget our time as Kobe’s home.”

“At Lower Merion HS, he captured our hearts and the attention of the world,” the governor wrote on Twitter. “He truly shined and brought pride to our state.”

Gianna Bryant had more than a blue blood basketball lineage. Her father often spoke proudly of her development as a player.

The 13-year-old, whose nickname was Gigi, was “hellbent” on playing for the University of Connecticut and in the W.N.B.A., her father told The Los Angeles Times last year.

The father and daughter sat courtside last March during UConn’s senior day rout of the University of Houston, which the Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma acknowledged caused some nerves for his players.

“Kobe was a little bit of a distraction,” Auriemma said at the time. “We were hoping he would just send Gigi, his daughter, and him stay home so he wouldn’t cause that distraction but we couldn’t arrange that.”

The elder Bryant was asked about his daughter picking up the game by SNY at the time.

“I watch the game through my daughter’s eyes,” Bryant said.

Kobe Bryant was one of the first guests to appear on Auriemma’s Holding Court with Geno Auriemma podcast in December 2017.

Auriemma shared Philadelphia roots with Bryant and played against Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, in a summer league game once, he said. The coach was born in Italy, which is where Kobe Bryant lived from age 6 to 13 while his father played professional basketball there.

“Then your Italian is way better than mine,” Auriemma said on the podcast.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Three American presidents spoke out on Sunday after Bryant’s death, a remarkable display of public grief.

President Trump said that Bryant was “just getting started in life,” even after a career that forever marked him as one of basketball’s greats.

“He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future,” the president wrote on Twitter. “The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating.”

Former President Barack Obama, a noted basketball fan, posted on Twitter that Bryant was “a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”

The death of Bryant’s daughter, the former president added, “is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.”

Bryant and Obama had crossed paths over the years, with Obama welcoming the Lakers to the White House and, at another point, with the president and Bryant appearing alongside each other at a community service event.

In 2016, Obama even appeared to mimic Bryant’s “Mamba out” moment at Staples Center. Obama, making the final appearance of his presidency at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, closed his speech with “Obama out” and dropped the microphone.

Former President Bill Clinton, who was in the White House when Bryant ascended to the N.B.A., and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, extolled how Bryant “brought excitement and joy to basketball fans not just in Los Angeles, but all over the U.S. and around the world.”

“Kobe Bryant,” the Clintons added, “lived a very large life in a very short time.”

Though Bryant never played for the Mavericks, Dallas announced on Twitter that “the number 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick.”

The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s jersey numbers -— 8 and 24 — in 2017. Donovan Mitchell, who plays for the Utah Jazz, proposed the league go a step further, retiring the number for all teams.

The N.B.A. has never retired a number across the league, but there is precedent in other major American sports leagues. Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s 42 in 1997, and the National Hockey League retired Wayne Gretzky’s 99 in 2000.

Twelve players currently wear 24, including Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings and Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls.

Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York Times

The National Transportation Safety Board said a team of 18 people would be immediately involved in its investigation, and that officials were expected to arrive in California from Washington late on Sunday.

“Our team will be looking at the history of the pilot and whatever crew was on board,” said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the board. “We’ll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter. We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter and a number of other things.”

N.T.S.B. investigations can stretch for months.

Homendy said federal officials were trying to learn the precise configuration of the downed helicopter — a crucial clue in determining the cause of the crash.

Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, quickly hailed Bryant as “one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game.”

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” Silver said, adding that Bryant would “be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”

Indeed, Silver, who led the N.B.A. in the final years of Bryant’s career, was certain to note how Bryant had taught Gianna, his daughter who also died in the crash. Silver said the longtime star 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.”

Credit…Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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 “Mamba Day.”

The media coverage of Bryant’s death spanned the globe, but a BBC clip package showing highlights of the Lakers superstar LeBron James instead of Bryant was widely mocked and criticized on Twitter.

The clip package showed James passing Bryant on the career scoring list in a road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night while a BBC newscaster rattled off Bryant’s achievements.

The segment began with a still photo of Bryant with his daughter Gianna seated courtside at a basketball game.

Paul Royall, a BBC editor, apologized on Twitter, for what he said was a human error.

“In tonight’s coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant on #BBCNewsTen we mistakenly used pictures of LeBron James in one section of the report,” he wrote. “We apologize for this human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme.”

Credit…Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Some 200 people had huddled together near the foggy Calabasas at the foot of the hill closest to the crash. Several people were wearing Kobe gear and had basketballs.

Paolo Santos, 27, had looked forward to catching a glimpse of his childhood idol at the Lakers game on Tuesday. “I’ve been watching him since I was a kid,” Santos said. “My stomach just hurts.”

“He’s a figure. He’s a legend. He brought L.A. back. He’s an L.A. icon,” he said. “He was a competitor. His drive, shooting in the gym at 4 in the morning. He’s what everyone wants to be.”

Philip Gordon, 45 of Winnetka, who was wearing a Kobe bathrobe over a Kobe jersey, Kobe shoes and socks, said he was watching the NFL Pro Bowl when he heard the news. “It’s so surreal,” he said.

“For 20 years I looked up to him. I became a fan of his as a person. It’s a huge loss for the city. He’s an icon beyond any Laker. We love Magic, we love Kareem, but Kobe transcends generations.”

Over in Echo Park Lake, joggers ran past residents of the cluster of tents on the lake’s northwest corner who were gathering around a table of donated food.

One man joined them and asked if the others had heard the news about Kobe Bryant. Immediately, expressions of disbelief rang out.

“No way!” someone said, punctuated with an expletive.

The man insisted it was true.

But slowly the reality set in.

Davon Brown, 29, wearing Lakers purple warm-up pants and a matching knitted beanie, said he moved to Southern California from New York years ago to play basketball. He saw Bryant as an example both on the court and off.

“He was way beyond” Michael Jordan, he said. “He was more omnipresent.” His game, Brown said, was more like dance.

Basketball, Brown said, has been a lifesaving force for him. And Bryant represented a powerful ethos.

“He had a killer instinct,” he said. “That self-love, that confidence transmutes into play.”