Sports fans around the world are struggling to reconcile with the sudden loss of American basketball icon Kobe Bryant. The 41-year-old died on January 26, 2020, when his private helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California — about 30 miles away from Los Angeles. The crash also killed the chopper's eight other occupants — Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna, her middle school basketball assistant coach Christina Mauser, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.
The aircraft was believed to be en route to the Mamba Sports Academy, where Gianna and her teammates Alyssa and Payton had an afternoon basketball game. Located in Thousand Oaks, California, the training facility was co-founded by Bryant in 2018 to support young, aspiring athletes.
Los Angeles County fire chief Daryl Osby said paramedic teams rushed to the site after receiving a 911 call just before 10 a.m. on Sunday. “We had one helicopter fly into the incident with firefighter-paramedics on board,” he said. “Those paramedics were hoisted down to the incident, early into the incident, they did a search of the area for survivors. Unfortunately … all on board were determined to have been perished.” Though the cause of the crash will take a few weeks to determine, the extremely heavy fog conditions, which had grounded even police helicopters, is believed to have been a factor.
Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year-basketball career as a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, was born in Philadelphia, PA, to NBA player Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. The basketball phenom, who decided to turn professional after graduating from high school, was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick, and then promptly traded to the Lakers for veteran center Vlade Divac. At just 18 years, two months, and 11 days old, he was the youngest player to be drafted in NBA history.
The trade proved to be fortuitous for the Lakers. By his third year, Bryant had moved from being a reserve to the starting line-up. He had also firmly established himself as a star, with experts often comparing the 20-year-old's incredible basketball shooting skills to those of Chicago Bulls' shooting guard Michael Jordan, often regarded as the best player in the history of the game. In 2000, under the guidance of Phil Jackson and with the assistance of talented teammates like Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant led the Lakers to their first NBA title since 1988. The dream team continued to dominate the league for the next two years, winning the championships in 2001 and 2002!
In addition to helping the Lakers garner two additional NBA titles in 2009 and 2010, Bryant was also a member of the basketball team responsible for bringing home the Olympic Gold medals in 2008 and 2012. By the time he retired in 2016, the 18-time NBA All-Star had played a total of 1,566 games and scored an astounding 33,643 points — a record surpassed by only three players — Kareem Abdul-Jabar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), and Lebron James (33,655) — in the NBA's 73-year history.
But Bryant's life was not just about the sport. Married to his high school sweetheart Vanessa Bryant since 2001, the father of four — Natalie (17), the late Gianna (13), Bianca (3), and six-month-old Capri — was also a devoted husband and dad. In fact, it was his second daughter, Gianna's passion and innate talent for basketball that led the legendary player to begin coaching her middle school basketball team shortly after retiring, in 2016.
When asked about his new post-retirement career by Entertainment Tonight in 2018, an enthusiastic Bryant said, "It's been fun! We've been working together for a year and a half, and they've improved tremendously in that time. I've got a group of great parents, a group of really, really intelligent, hardworking girls, and -- they're all seventh graders, they're all 12 years old -- but they've been playing so well!"
In 2018, Bryant became the first professional athlete to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the first African American to win the coveted Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Entitled Dear Basketball, the uplifting four-minute-long feature is based on a letter Bryant wrote to The Players' Tribune on November 29, 2015, announcing his retirement from basketball. It outlines the player's passion for the sport since childhood and takes viewers on his 20-year journey to achieving his goals.
Though there are many ways to honor Bryant, the best way to pay tribute to one of the greatest sports heroes of all time may be to follow his philosophy on life: “Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile, and just keep on rolling.” — Kobe Bryant, 2008.
Resources:: Yahoo.sports.com, bleacherreport.com, Wikipedia.com, Guardian.com