CHARLOTTE, NC (Alex Andrejev/The Charlotte Observer) - The basketball world is mourning the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday. Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among those killed in the crash in Calabasas, California.
News of Bryant’s death has hit North Carolina particularly hard given the strong college basketball presence in the state. Many current and former players and coaches have expressed their grief on social media.
“I am so sad at the tragic news today,” tweeted former NBA and Duke player Shane Battier. “Kobe was such a huge part of my career and my basketball life as a measuring stick, as an adversary, as a role model of basketball greatness.”
Bryant’s NBA career began in Charlotte. He entered the NBA draft out of high school at age 17 and was selected by the Hornets as the 13th pick in the first round.
Bryant was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac in a move that sparked Bryant’s 20-year career in Los Angeles.
During his time with the Lakers, Bryant won five NBA championships, had 15 All-NBA selections and 18 All-Star selections. He was an MVP-award winner and two-time Finals MVP.
“No no no please tell me this is not true,” tweeted Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum. “Not Kobe ... prayers to his wife, daughters and loved ones.”
In 2016, Bryant retired from the Lakers to focus on his multimedia and philanthropic endeavors, which he continued until his death. According to TMZ, Bryant and Gianna were traveling to the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, for a basketball event when the crash occurred.
“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” said Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in a statement Sunday. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.”
Krzyzewski coached Bryant at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. The two reportedly had a close relationship.
“The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that,” said Krzyzewski in the statement.
Charlotte Hornets team owner Michael Jordan made the following statement Sunday:
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”
Bryant, Jordan and Lakers star LeBron James are considered three of the greatest NBA players of all-time. Saturday, James surpassed Bryant for the No. 3 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Jordan is No. 5 on that list, just behind Bryant.
Hornets President of Basketball Operations & General Manager Mitch Kupchak released the following statement on Bryant’s passing:
“I’m deeply saddened and shocked by today’s tragic news of the passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
“I had the privilege of witnessing up close, from start to finish, Kobe’s remarkable 20-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers. His accomplishments were truly extraordinary – a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist and NBA MVP – and he will be remembered as one of the game’s all-time greats.
“Kobe was one of the fiercest competitors the NBA has ever known. Who will ever forget his Game 7 performance in the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics? Despite his own and our entire team’s shooting struggles, he willed us to win with 23 points – 10 coming in the fourth quarter – and 15 rebounds. That game epitomized his drive, his passion and his desire to win. Although the game was close throughout, I always felt that one way or another he would not let us lose.
“Kobe’s toughness on the basketball court was second to none. He played through injuries and sickness, oftentimes defying doctors’ and ownership’s recommendations to not play, in an effort to never miss a game. Kobe was a once-in-a-generation player who will forever be remembered for his competitive nature and his will to win. They threw away the mold when Kobe Bryant was born. There will never be another like him.
“My deepest condolences, and those of the entire Hornets organization, go out to his wife, Vanessa, and their entire family, as well as to the Lakers organization and loyal Lakers fans all over the world.”
Hornets point guard Devonte’ Graham summarized his grief succinctly.
“Speechless,” he tweeted.