Kobe Bryant death: Fans reel after NBA star dies in helicopter crash, leaving a complex legacy behind

Star’s 13-year-old daughter also among the dead

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 26 January 2020 22:57 GMT
Basketball legend Kobe Bryant dead aged 41

On Saturday night – just hours before Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash – fellow basketball legend LeBron James reflected on having just overtaken Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and pushing him into fourth place.

“It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense,” said James, referring to Bryant’s contribution not just to the LA Lakers, but to the broader world of professional basketball.

“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.”

James, 35, only joined the Lakers in 2018; Bryant never played for another professional team, having been drafted straight out of high school.

While sports pundits debate whether or not James is the greatest ever player, there is a broad and deafening consensus that Bryant, who played guard, was among the very, very finest players ever to have put on an NBA shirt.

He could run, he could jump, he could glide. And he could score from almost anywhere. His turnaround jump-shot was notoriously difficult to defend against.

He was also an athlete who clearly loved his work, even if he frequently appeared intense.

The records show that Bryant, who was born Philadelphia, but spent parts of his youth in Italy, played in 18 NBA All-Star games, and won five championships over a career that reached over 20 years. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

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The son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, Bryant’s career was not without controversy, and perhaps even worse.

In 2003, he was accused of raping a 19-year-old Colorado hotel worker. The criminal case against him was dropped after she decided not to take part in the trial and prosecutors were forced to drop the charges. In 2005, the case was settled out of court, with no admission on his part. His defence team was preparing to undermine the woman’s character, by suggesting she had slept with other players.

In a statement issued in 2005, he said: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”

While Bryant was able to put the incident behind him, others did not forget. In 2018, for instance, Bryant, who won an Oscar for an animated basketball film Dear Basketball, was dropped as a member of a film judging panel, after complaints from activists over the 2003 allegations.

Bryant, the father of four children, retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

But his love of, and interest in basketball did not end once he stopped playing at the very highest level.

Indeed, reports suggest he was on his way to watch a basketball game featuring his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore, when the chopper crashed. The teenager was among five people killed.

Meanwhile on Saturday evening, after Le Bron James overtook his career total of 33,643 points, he wrote would transpired to be his last tweet.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant, tagging James’s Twitter handle. “Much respect my brother.”

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