Los Angeles: Kobe Bryant’s laserlike focus and sublime skills were remembered Sunday by NBA colleagues, fans and athletes he inspired as they absorbed the shock of his death at the age of 41.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and two-time Olympic gold medallist, died in a fiery helicopter crash in suburban Los Angeles that also claimed the life of his 13- year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.
Bryant, the 18-time All-Star who won five NBA championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career all with the Lakers “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “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.”
Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic. He travelled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended in 2016. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that recently produced an Academy Award-winning animated short film. The basketball world and Los Angeles reacted with an outpouring of pain and disbelief.
“We laughed and joked about the Mamba mentality. We’re all going to need it right now,” an emotional Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before his team played the Magic in Orlando in one of eight NBA games on the night. Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, was washed in the Lakers colors of purple and gold, and so were the pylons that mark the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport.
In San Antonio, the Spurs and Toronto Raptors both committed 24-second shot-clock violations on their opening possessions in honor of Bryant — who wore No. 24 in the latter stages of his career. “The NBA family is devastated,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game.”
Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan said Bryant would be remembered as one of the game’s greatest. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling,’ Jordan said. ‘I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me.” That sentiment was echoed by Shaquille O’Neal — who won three NBA titles and also famously feuded with Bryant in Los Angeles. The grief was felt beyond the basketball court.
“The world lost a legend, but the impact and legacy he leaves behind will last forever,” Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao — an avid basketball fan — tweeted. Brazilian footballer Neymar dedicated his second goal in Paris Saint-German’s 2-0 victory at Lille to Bryant, calling his death ‘deeply saddening for the world of sport and for all of us — not just for basketball fans but for
everything he did for sport.”
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” former US President Barack Obama, another keen basketball fan, tweeted.
Taking to Instagram, India captain Virat Kohli said he was absolutely devastated and heartbroken while recalling memories of waking up early to catch a glimpse of Kobe Bryant on television.
“Absolutely devastated to hear this news. So many childhood memories of waking up early and watching this magician doing things on the court that I would be mesmerized by. Life is so unpredictable and fickle. His daughter Gianna passed away too in the crash. Iam absolutely Heartbroken. Rest in peace. Strength and condolences to the family,” Virat Kohli wrote.
In Los Angeles, fans gathered to leave tributes near the sight of the crash and outside the Lakers’ practice facility miles south in El Segundo. And they gathered outside the Lakers’ Staples Center arena, where Bryant’s death cast a shadow over the glitzy Grammy Awards.
“Here we are,” Grammys host Alicia Keys said. ‘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. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.’