The 41-year-old sportsman was killed in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in California on Sunday.
As tributes poured in from across the globe, devastated fans gathered outside the Staples centre, home of the Los Angeles Lakers – the team with which Bryant established himself as one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
But in its News at Ten coverage, the BBC mistakenly used clips of his teammate, James.
An on-air apology was issued later in the broadcast, but many suggested the mistake highlighted a lack of diversity in the broadcaster and British media as a whole.
“Kobe Bryant and LeBron James don't even look similar,” said Tottenham’s Labour MP David Lammy. “If the BBC hired more black producers and editors, appalling mistakes like this simply would not happen.”
“I wish this careless mistake surprised me. It does not,” said journalist Musa Okwonga, contributor to The Good Immigrant.
“Dear BBC News, black people don't look the same! Good Lord – in all our grief with this tragic loss we have to deal with this disgrace,” wrote lawyer and founder of Women in Leadership Publication, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.
Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Six and Ten, apologised for the mistake, blaming “human error”.
“In tonight's coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant we mistakenly used pictures of LeBron James in one section of the report,” Mr Royall said. “We apologise for this human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme.”
On Sunday, James paid tribute to his former teammate, saying: “It’s just too much. It’s too much. The story is too much. It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from.
“The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, when you just give it everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically.
“And it’s not supposed to make sense, but it just happens. And I’m 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. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”
Former US president Barack Obama also made a heartfelt tribute, writing: “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.
“To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
The current president soon followed with a statement described by many as suspiciously similar.
“Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life,” Donald Trump wrote. “He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating.”
TMZ, which broke the news of Bryant’s death, was also criticised by many online after it emerged there had not been enough time for police to notify some family members of those onboard the helicopter.
“I am saddened that I was gathering facts as a media outlet reported that Kobe had passed,” said Los Angeles Sheriffs Department’s second-in-command Tim Murakami. “I understand getting the scoop but please allow us time to make personal notifications to their loved ones. It’s very cold to hear of the loss via media. Breaks my heart.”
There was also outrage after an MSNBC reporter appeared to refer to the Lakers as the Los Angeles n*****s.
“ … he was just the kind of athlete, the kind of star that was perfectly cast on the Lost Angeles n*****s,” Alison Morris appeared to say in a tribute to Bryant, which she later vehemently denied.
“I unfortunately stuttered on air, combining the names of the Knicks and the Lakers to say ‘Nakers’,” Ms Morris wrote on Twitter. “Please know I did not and would NEVER use a racist term. I apologise for the confusion this caused.”
It’s not the first time the BBC has used footage of the wrong BAME sportsman. 2018, the broadcaster apologised for mistakenly using footage of Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram instead of teammate Imran Khan, who is now the country’s prime minister.
In seeking an explanation for the BBC’s error, some social media users suggested the footage of James had likely been used earlier that weekend while reporting on the news that he had surpassed Bryant’s total of 33,643 points on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, climbing into the top three in history behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.
In one of his final social media posts, Bryant had celebrated James’s achievement, writing: “Continuing to move the game forward. Much respect my brother.”
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