NBA legend Kobe Bryant died Sunday when a helicopter crashed and burst into flames in foggy conditions in suburban Los Angeles, killing all nine people on board and plunging the sports world into mourning.
Bryant, 41, was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when their Sikorsky S-76 helicopter slammed into a rugged hillside in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history, an iconic figure who became one of the faces of his sport during a glittering two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dozens of firefighters and paramedics battled across steep terrain to reach the flaming wreckage of the crash site but found no survivors, officials said.
Father-of-four Bryant and his teenage daughter were later confirmed amongst the nine fatalities. No further information on the identities of the pilot and six other passengers was released.
Bryant’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world, with basketball stars left stunned by the news.
“Laker Nation, the game of basketball & our city, will never be the same without Kobe,” former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Another NBA icon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, added: “Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
Tributes to Bryant flooded in from sports stars around the world, a sign of how the man known as the “Black Mamba” had transcended basketball throughout his career.
American football star Tom Brady wrote simply: “We miss you already Kobe.”
Brazilian soccer star Neymar meanwhile paid tribute to Bryant after scoring for his French club side Paris Saint-Germain, making the number 24 — Bryant’s old shirt number — with his fingers.
At the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, around 200 shocked fans gathered to pay tribute to the star as the venue geared up to host the music industry’s Grammy Awards later Sunday.
“This dude is everything to me man. It makes no sense,” said Bobby Jimenez, sobbing as he stood outside the venue.
Across the NBA, tributes were held at several of the eight games scheduled for Sunday.
Denver Nuggets fans began chants of “Kobe, Kobe” as a minute’s silence was held before their game against the Houston Rockets.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers fought back tears ahead of his team’s game against the Orlando Magic.
“The news is just devastating to everybody who knew him, who knew him a long time,” Rivers said.
“He had that DNA that very few athletes can ever have — the Tiger Woods’ and Michael Jordans.”
The crash came only hours after Bryant was passed by current Lakers star LeBron James for third on the all-time NBA scoring list in a Saturday game at Philadelphia.
Bryant’s final post on social media had been a tweet congratulating James on surpassing him.
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote. “Much respect my brother #33644”.