The world is still coming to terms with the death of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, one of the planet’s most recognizable professional athletes.
Bryant, 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven other passengers died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas Sunday morning. Two of Gianna’s teammates, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli, and their team’s assistant coach Christina Mauser also died in the crash. Chester’s mother, Sarah, and Altobelli’s parents, John and Keri, were also killed, officials confirmed Monday, as was pilot Ara Zobayan.
“It’s surrealistic. I’m still trying to grasp it all. It’s in the news around the world,” said Johnny Buss, part owner and vice president of strategic development for the Lakers. Buss recently purchased the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena.
“To see the world coming together, the laying of flowers at a service in China, it’s just amazing,” said a sorrowful Buss. “But things happen. We wish they didn’t, but they do.”
Laker great Kareem Abdul Jabbar, in an interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN Monday night, said “It’s been a very tough several hours now. It’s very hard to deal with this, when you see someone who had so much more to share with us…. you can’t make sense of it. Things like this don’t make sense.
“It’s tough to understand,” Jabbar went on. “It’s useless. It serves no purpose except to make us know we have to be even more careful. At this point, we don’t understand what the circumstances were about this flight. There could have been some problems with that. It’s not a time to point fingers. It’s just time for us to be more cautious and not let something like this happen again. The loss is just too much. I’m just glad you didn’t see me yesterday (Sunday). I was a mess yesterday.”
LIFE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
For 20 years Bryant mesmerized Los Angeles with his talents on the hardwood of first the Forum in Inglewood, and later Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. A ferocious competitor, Bryant’s accomplishments led him to be known as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, played in the NBA for eight seasons, four with the Philadelphia 76ers, three with the then-San Diego Clippers and one with the Houston Rockets. After his NBA career ended, Bryant’s father moved the family to Italy for the rest of his playing career. They later returned to the Philadelphia area as Bryant entered high school.
The elder Bryant went on to coach the Sparks, LA’s WNBA team, from 2005 to 2007, and again at the end of the 2011 season. Buss, the eldest child of former Laker owner Jerry Buss, served as president of the Sparks until 2006.
Kobe Bryant took the nation by storm in 1996, catching the eye of NBA scouts — many of whom thought he would be the heir apparent to the legendary Michael Jordan. Bryant told them he was better than Jordan. Bryant was drafted out of Lower Merion — a high school in the Philadelphia area — 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. Shortly after being picked, he was traded to the only NBA team he would ever play for — the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his two decades with the team, Bryant won five championships, became an 18-time all-star and won two Olympic gold medals.
Known for his innate scoring ability, Bryant ranks fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. In a game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, Bryant totaled 81 points — the second-most in a single game, only behind former Laker Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 100 points in one game while playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, which later became the Golden State Warriors. Chamberlain stayed in Philly, playing for the 76ers before moving to LA in 1968 and suiting up with the Lakers.
In the summer of 2003, Bryant came under fire after being accused of sexual assault against a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado while rehabbing a knee injury. He was charged with felony sexual assault, but the charges were dropped close to a year later when the accuser refused to testify. The two parties later settled out of court. After that incident, Kobe maintained his relationship with his wife, Vanessa. At the time, the couple had one daughter. They would go on to have three more girls. In the ensuing years, Bryant became a strong advocate for women’s sports. At the time of the crash, he was on his way to his daughter’s basketball game in Thousand Oaks. He was her team’s coach.
During his career, Bryant left an impact on future generations of basketball players. In the games that were on the same day as his death, teams across the NBA paid homage to him. The teams began with an eight-second backcourt violation and a 24-second shot clock violation, the two numbers Bryant wore in his career.
Players such as Atlanta Hawk’s young star guard Trae Young remembered Bryant by wearing a No. 8 jersey instead of his usual No.11. Others such as San Antonio Spurs guard and LA native DeMar DeRozan offered his thoughts on the tragedy.
“Words can’t explain it,” said DeRozan after the game against the Toronto Raptors. “Everything I learned came from Kobe. Take Kobe away I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the love, the passion, the drive — everything came from him.”
After his retirement, Bryant set his eyes on different adventures, from movies to television. He won an Academy Award for his short film “Dear Basketball” and hosted a basketball analysis TV show titled “Detail.”
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” former President Barack Obama said in a tweet.
‘IT WAS ROUGH’
As people learned of the tragic helicopter crash, thousands flocked to L.A. Live and Staples Center. Fans of Bryant put together memorials with flowers, jerseys and candles outside the stadium. Other memorials sprouted up across LA and Orange County.
Armen Shrikian grew up in the Newport Beach area where he met Bryant on several occasions. The superstar and his family lived in that area of Orange County. Shrikian, now living in Pasadena, remembers the impact that Bryant had on his life.
“He is why I fell in love with basketball,” said the 23-year-old Shrikian. “My pursuit to become a sports journalist has always been because of my love of basketball and that really started because of Kobe.”
Shrikian also talked about the “Mamba Mentality” that Bryant advocated and what he learned from that philosophy.
“You finish what you start,” Shrikian said. “It’s this understanding of giving it all you ever had.”
Milad Rohani 22, also grew up in the Newport Beach area where he met Bryant many times. Rohani, who now lives across the street from L.A. Live, went to the vigil there shortly after the news of Bryant’s death was reported. Until he saw the thousands of people, the sorrow on their faces and the screens that read “In Loving Memory of Kobe Bryant,” Rohani did not believe the news.
“That’s when I broke down,” said Rohani. “It was just rough man. It was rough… It was genuinely surreal. I’ve never felt an energy like that… It’s like everyone in LA lost an uncle or a brother or a son.”
Rohani was born in 1996, the same year Bryant was drafted.
“Kobe came into the NBA the same year I was born,” he said. “He was this consistent part of my life. No matter what was going on with family, school, friends, girls or whatever it was, I could come back at 7 o’clock and watch Kobe Bryant dominate defenses.”
Buss said he knew of no planned memorials for Bryant, but said there have been “ongoing discussions between the NBA, the Buss family and the Bryant family” about a possible commemoration. Buss’ sister, Laker president and controlling owner Jeanie Buss, has been with Vanessa and her daughters at the Bryant home in Orange County, offering solace and any help she can, Johnny Buss said.
“It’s especially tough because we just lost our mom just before Christmas. So it’s just been one hell of a couple of months,” he said. “But we move on. We have to move forward and memorialize everybody who touched our lives, and Kobe is one of them.”