Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time and an internationally recognizable NBA superstar, died in a helicopter crash Sunday outside Los Angeles. He was 41 years old.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people were aboard the helicopter when it went down “in a remote field” in Calabasas, Calif. about 10 a.m., according to the Associated Press.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, at a news conference, said that all nine people aboard the helicopter were killed, but would not confirm the identities, pending official word from the coroner. “It would be entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name,” he said.
Bryant was married to Vanessa Laine Bryant. They had four children together.
Bryant, who retired from the NBA in 2016, played for the Los Angeles Lakers for the entirety of his two-decade career, winning the NBA Finals five times.
Bryant was also a longtime helicopter passenger, famously flying from his Orange County home to Lakers games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles during his career.
The sports legend was in the news on Saturday as LeBron James, who plays for the Lakers, surpassed Bryant as no. 3 all-time NBA scorer. Bryant remains the fourth-highest career NBA scorer. In a tweet the night before his death, he congratulated James. “Continuing to move the game forward,” he said of James.
Bryant also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 with the film Dear Basketball, which he wrote and narrated.
Kobe honored at Grammy awards
Performers and presenters at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, which took place at Los Angeles’ Staples Center — the home of the Lakers — paid tribute to Bryant throughout the evening. The show began with a performance from Lizzo, the night’s most-nominated artist, who said ”Tonight is for Kobe,” before launching into the lyric “I’m crying ‘cuz I love you” from her song “Cuz I Love You.” The evening’s host, Alicia Keys, followed with a heartfelt, subdued speech and was then joined by Boyz II Men for an a cappella performance of their song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
A few minutes later, an emotional Lizzo used her time onstage to accept an award to remind viewers of the importance of connection. “All my little problems I thought were big as the world are gone,” she said. “I realize there are people hurting right now… Let’s continue to reach out, hold each other down and lift each other up.”
Cause of helicopter crash under investigation
The Los Angeles County Fire Department received the first report of the crash at 9:47 a.m. on Sunday in a hilly area of Los Angeles County near Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street.
Some 56 personnel, including paramedics responded to the crash scene, and found a quarter-acre brush fire that was caused by the crash, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Firefighters hiked into the crash site and a helicopter hoisted paramedics down to search for survivors, but rescue crews found no one alive.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the cause of the crash.
What do we know about the helicopter?
Authorities have not confirmed details about the helicopter that crashed, but according to flight tracking site flightaware.com and the Los Angeles Times, the aircraft was a 1991 Sikorsky S-76B twin-engine helicopter.
The helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. at 9:08 a.m.
Flightaware.com records show the aircraft was owned by Island Express Holding Corp., registered in Fillmore, Calif.
The S-76 is a popular helicopter that has been in service since 1977, with hundreds of aircraft delivered around the world, according to Lockheed Martin, the company that owns Sikorsky.
“Sikorsky is proud of the S-76 fleet’s legacy. With more than 7.4 million hours of safe, successful flight, we are committed to supporting the platform and to continuous product improvements,” according to the website for the helicopter.
It is used as a search and rescue helicopter, for medical evacuations and 10 countries employ it to transport their head of state. A newer model of the S-76 helicopter is used to fly Queen Elizabeth II and other royals.
Sikorsky said in a statement: “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer. Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.”
Kobe Bryant’s legacy
Bryant worked his way into the GOAT conversation—”Greatest Player of All-Time”—through his five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, two scoring titles, a regular season MVP, a pair of Olympic gold medals, selection to 18 All-Star teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, and spot as the fourth leading scorer in NBA history, with 36,643 points. He’s up there with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and anyone else. In a cruel coincidence, current Laker James, who looked up to Bryant and was in tears Sunday after the team plane returned from a road trip, had just passed Bryant on the all-time scoring list on Saturday night. Bryant’s last ever Tweet, sent at 10:39 Eastern Time on Saturday, was a shoutout to James: “Much respect my brother,” Kobe wrote.
Bryant was a ruthless basketball competitor, known as the “Black Mamba.” He’d rip an opponent’s heart out with a devastating dunk, or an artful fadeaway jump shot, a signature move. He scold less talented teammates, and craved the ball in big situations.
He arrived in the NBA straight out of high school, in 1996, as the first guard to skip college basketball straight for the pros. This decision was seismic: Bryant’s success inspired a generation of players, including James, to seize their pro opportunity as soon as possible. After winning three straight championships with Shaquille O’Neal from 2000-2002, the Lakers suffered some down years in the mid-aughts following O’Neal’s 2004 trade to the Miami Heat. Then Bryant willed the Lakers to a renaissance, winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. He was the MVP of both series: those championships, without Shaq, validated his all-time greatness. Those were his own.
His singular performances thrilled his followers. In January of 2006 Bryant scored 81 points in an LA victory over the Toronto Raptors; only Wilt Chamberlain, who went for 100 points in a game in 1962, scored more in a single game. Bryant’s final game, in 2016, set a new standard for last hurrahs: Bryant scored 60 points, on 50 shots, in a Laker win over the Utah Jazz. For the Mamba, this basketball ending was all too fitting.
Tributes from around the world for Kobe Bryant
The tributes that have poured following Bryant’s sudden death are one small indication that Bryant made an impact well beyond the basketball court—from former President Barack Obama, to fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan and President Donald Trump.
In a statement, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Bryant “a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people,” adding that “he will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes,” he said.
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, a longtime friend of Bryant’s, highlighted the athlete’s uniqueness in remarks on ESPN 2 made after the news spread. “It wasn’t just about basketball with him. It was about life,” Smith said of Bryant’s passions. “This guy was highly, highly intellectual, he was a brilliant mind. He was on a mission to constantly elevate himself intellectually.”
Athletes, artists and others quickly expressed their shock to the news of Bryant’s death on social media, including Saquon Barkley, running back for the New York Giants, Lil Nas X, NBA legends Dwayne Wade and Magic Johnson, gymnast Simone Biles, former Indianapolis Colts player Pat McAfee and 50 Cent.
“This came out of nowhere,” McAfee said. “Absolutely devastating.”
Former NBA star Scottie Pippen tweeted that he was “stunned.”
President Donald Trump tweeted about Bryant’s death on Sunday afternoon. “That is terrible news,” he said.
Former President Barack Obama also made a statement on Bryant’s loss. “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” he said. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents.”
The Prime Minister of Jamaica posted about Bryant’s death on Twitter. “Kobe Bryant is a name that is synonymous with basketball,” he said.
“Kobe, we love you brother. We’re praying for your family and appreciate the life you’ve lived and all the inspiration you gave,” Kanye West said in a post on Twitter.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio posted a tribute on Twitter. “L.A. will never be the same,” it said.
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy,” former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal posted on Twitter.
“My heart is broken for his wife and family,” television show host Ellen DeGeneres posted on Twitter.
Legendary Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi posted a tribute on Instagram. “You were a genius like few others,” it said.
“Today, we lost a legend,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a tribute posted on Twitter.
Fans gather at Staples Center to pay tribute
Hundreds of fans gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday to pay tribute to the Lakers legend. “Thank you, Kobe,” fans could be heard chanting in a video posted to Twitter by ABC News.
Photos circulating on social media showed flowers and signs left by fans outside the arena. “R.I.P. Mamba,” read one sign.
Kyle Robinson, 28, a lifelong Lakers fan, was among those who gathered at the Staples Center.
“I knew there would be a nice crowd down here, and it’d be a place to come talk about it and hang with other fans that are hurting too,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
University of Southern California student Ryan Apfel also joined the crowd. “I was at my apartment by myself and I broke down crying. I looked for my Kobe jersey and said, ‘I have to go down there. I’m too restless. I have to pay my respects,’” he said, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com.