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 helped the Los Angeles Lakers win five NBA titles during his 20-year-career with the team (Credit: Lawrence Jackson /Creative Commons.org)Public domain)
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!