Lakers Icon Kobe Bryant, Daughter Gianna Maria Die in Helicopter Crash

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2020

Former Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant listens to a question as he meets with students at Andrew Hamilton School in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 21, 2019. Kobe Bryant was promoting the book The Wizenard Series: Training Camp he created with writer Wesley King. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Former NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, nicknamed Gigi, were among nine people who died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

The city of Calabasas confirmed the news. TMZ Sports reported the 41-year-old, his 13-year-old daughter and the passengers were traveling on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice in a private helicopter before it crashed

ESPNSarah Mervosh and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of the New York Times and CNN's Jon Passantino reported the six passengers and pilot who were with the Bryants: Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Corona Del Mar, California; Gianna's teammate Payton Chester and her mother Sarah; Ara Zobayan, the pilot.

Richard Winton of the Los Angeles Times reported the helicopter crashed into a hillside. ESPN's Paula Lavigne reported "air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank, just to the north, and Van Nuys, to the northwest. After holding up the helicopter for other aircraft, the controllers cleared the Sikorsky S-76 to proceed north along Interstate 5 through Burbank before turning west to follow U.S. Route 101, the Ventura Highway."

Alan Blinder, Tim Arango and Dave Philipps of the New York Times reported the helicopter "received approval to fly even though weather conditions were worse than usual standards for flying. 

"The helicopter flew north from Orange County after takeoff on Sunday morning and circled near Burbank, waiting for clearance to keep going. According to audio records between the helicopter’s pilot and air traffic control at Burbank Airport, the helicopter was given what is known as Special Visual Flight Rules clearance, meaning they could proceed through Burbank’s airspace on a foggy morning in Southern California.

"Whether the pilot made the right decision — to allow the helicopter to continue flying on despite low fog in the hillsides of Calabasas, where the aircraft crashed — will likely be at the center of the investigation into the cause of the crash."

Lavigne added, "The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days of a crash that gives a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of an aviation crash can take a year or more."

The NBPA released a statement staying, "We are stunned and devastated by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our Players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also issued a statement, via Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:

"The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.

"For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization and the entire sports world."

Bryant spent his entire NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2016, helping the team win five NBA titles.

The 18-time All-Star also won two scoring titles, two Finals MVP awards and a regular-season MVP in 2007-08. He also won two Olympic gold medals playing for Team USA.

He finished his career with 33,643 points scored, which ranked third in NBA history from the time he retired until LeBron James passed him on the scoring list Saturday night.

Bryant was supportive of James passing him in the record books, tweeting out a positive message Saturday after the record-breaking points.

Kobe Bryant @kobebryant

Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644

"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 said after the game, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Bryant remained active following his playing career, winning an Academy Award for his animated short "Dear Basketball." He also hosted "Detail" on ESPN+ where he provided in-depth breakdowns of games.