Kobe Bryant left deep legacy in LA sports, basketball world

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant (pic below) inspired a generation of basketball players worldwide with sublime skills and an unquenchable competitive fire.

He earned Los Angeles’ eternal adoration during his two decades as the fierce soul of the beloved Lakers, and he was respected by basketball fans from every place with a hoop and a dream, including his native Philadelphia and in Italy, his other childhood home.

Less than four years into his retirement, Bryant was seizing new challenges and working to inspire his daughters’ generation through sports and storytelling when his next chapter ended shockingly early.

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, died in a helicopter crash yesterday. He was 41.

The crash occurred in the foggy hills above Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant was killed, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, and a different person familiar with the case confirmed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also died.

Both of the AP’s unnamed sources spoke on condition of anonymity because few details of the crash had been released publicly.

Authorities said all nine people on the helicopter were presumed dead. No names were released.

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. Bryant is all but certain to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, when he is eligible for the first time.

“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an 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.”

The crash occurred about 20 miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s basketball training complex in Newbury Park, California. A youth basketball tournament — the Mamba Cup — was scheduled for a second day of competition yesterday at the facility, and Bryant had attended the opening day last Saturday with Gianna.

Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters. He had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s football and other endeavours.

Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers purple and gold. The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a prolific, gifted shooter with a sublime all-around game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.

Taking cues from Michael Jordan, one of his idols, Bryant played with a swagger that compelled him to talk trash, to guard the toughest opponents, to play through pain and to demand the ball at the biggest moments of games.

He didn’t always hit them, but Bryant never stopped trying.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” LeBron James said last Saturday night. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the three. 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 held the third spot in the league scoring ranks until the day before his death, when James passed him during the Lakers’ game in Philadelphia.

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 players to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers”.

Bryant always reacted graciously to the achievements of James, his former on-court rival who joined the Lakers in 2018.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs great who also retired in 2016, is also expected to be part of the Hall of Fame class that will be announced at the NBA’s All-Star weekend next month. Duncan, now a Spurs assistant, was visibly emotional on the bench during their game against Toronto on Sunday.

Bryant had been spending more time with his daughters since leaving the league. The Bryants’ first daughter, Natalia, turned 17 a week ago. Bianka Bella Bryant is three years old, and Capri Kobe Bryant was born last June.

Gianna, better known as Gigi, had a promising youth career and a competitive pugnaciousness that reminded everybody of her dad. Bryant sat with her courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game late last year, clearly passing along his wisdom to his daughter.

Bryant told Jimmy Kimmel in 2018 that Gianna wanted to play in the WNBA and recalled how fans would often approach him saying “you gotta have a boy, you gotta someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy”.

Gianna took exception, “She’s like, ‘Oy, I got this,’” Bryant recalled.

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 sprawling city’s most popular athlete and one of its most beloved people. Buildings from downtown to Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in Lakers purple and gold.