Friends, fans and colleagues from across the world reacted with profound sadness and disbelief on Sunday as they struggled to absorb the news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.
Teams around the NBA played through dizzying emotions on the very day they learned that the Los Angeles Lakers legend and his daughter Gianna were among nine people who perished in a California helicopter crash. Expressions of pain and grief poured in from the worlds of sport, politics and entertainment.
The 18-time NBA all-star, and winner of five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, died Sunday at the age of 41. He was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter to her basketball game when the helicopter went down in Calabasas, an accident from which there were no survivors. Gianna – also known as Gigi – was one of four daughters to Bryant and his wife Vanessa.
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” former U.S. president Barack Obama wrote on Twitter. “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.”
His death dominated social media on Sunday. A stream of celebrities expressed their sorrow for the superstar who had become a pop culture icon, also dabbling in business and filmmaking. Taylor Swift tweeted that her heart was in pieces, adding, “Kobe meant so much to me.” Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel posted about his charisma and commitment to his four daughters.
The Grammy Awards, taking place at Staples Center Sunday night, opened with a Musical tribute to Bryant by Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men.
Superstar athletes from Tom Brady to Alexander Ovechkin and P.K. Subban posted photos of themselves with the basketball star many called “Black Mamba.” Wayne Gretzky posted that he and wife Janet were praying for Bryant’s family.
The New York Knicks played host to the Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving, a close friend, couldn’t bring himself to play after learning of Bryant’s death. The Nets said he was not with the team for personal reasons.
"Obviously, our leader Ky wasn’t able to play. Our thoughts go out to him as well as to the families, the Bryant family as well as the other families on the helicopter, parents, the pilots,” Nets guard Garrett Temple said after New York’s 110-97 victory.
Many from the soccer sphere reacted with sorrow Sunday. Bryant was an avid supporter of their sport, from Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling to the U.S. women’s national team. Global soccer star Neymar dedicated his goal for Paris Saint-German to the Lakers great on Sunday, celebrating by holding up two fingers with one hand and four with the other, representing Bryant’s uniform number, 24.
AC Milan mourned the passing of one of their club’s greatest fans: “We have no words to express how shocked we are to hear of the tragic passing of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and Rossonero fan, Kobe Bryant.”
Countless female basketball stars posted about Bryant, especially since the father of four girls was an outspoken voice for growing the women’s game. Canadian WNBA star Kia Nurse tweeted: “this is not real my heart hurts so much. Kobe meant & will always mean so much to the game supported the women’s game like no other so much love for him and Gigi.”
All eight NBA games proceeded as scheduled on Sunday, with moments of silence and other tributes observed at each, and players and staff visibly reeling.
The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs tipped off in Texas Sunday afternoon, mere hours after the news broke. The game began with a poignant moment. Both teams agreed to walk the ball up the floor and let the 24-second shot clock expire at each basket – in honour of Bryant.
Bryant was a mentor and confidante to many playing in the game, including DeMar DeRozan – a California native who idolized Bryant as a boy before they later became friends. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich consoled DeRozan on the bench during the pregame warmups.
“Everything I learned came from Kobe,” DeRozan said after the game. “Take Kobe away, and I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have the love, the passion, the drive.”
DeRozan shared long sombre hugs with his former Toronto teammates at Sunday’s game, such as Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Powell and Anunoby both trained in August at Bryant’s exclusive summer basketball camp.
In Orlando, in the hours before the Magic and Los Angeles Clippers were to face off, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers struggled to get words out as he cried throughout his pregame session with reporters.
“The news is just devastating to everyone,” said Rivers, who noted he had known Bryant a long time. “There are so many people he touched. Looking at my young players and seeing how emotional they are, and they didn’t even know him. It just tells you how far his reach was.”
The Dallas Mavericks are paying tribute to Kobe Bryant by permanently retiring his number 24.
“Kobe’s legacy transcends basketball, and our organization has decided that the number 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick,” Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said.
NBA players – past and present – expressed their sorrow in droves at games and on social media.
Philadelphia 76ers Cameroonian all-star Joel Embiid tweeted that watching Kobe Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals made him want to be a basketball player.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, put on a Lakers sweater and filmed a video after hearing the news. The Lakers great relayed a story about first meeting Bryant as a little boy, the son of Joe Bryant, one of Abdul-Jabbar’s on-court adversaries. “This loss is so hard to comprehend,” he said.
NBA legend Bill Russell tweeted out “Jeannine & I are absolutely shocked to hear of the loss of one of my favorite people & one of the best basketball minds in the history of the game! Our hearts & prayers to Vanessa & his girls. @kobebryant you were my biggest fan, but I was yours.”
Bryant’s final tweet before his death had been to congratulate LeBron James on Saturday night as he passed Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Fans had lined the streets outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, gathering to process the news together in the city where he was so beloved.
One of his dearest friends, Shaquille O’Neal, pulled together a montage of the duo’s playing days with the Lakers and posted on Twitter about his anguish:
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant,” O’Neal wrote. “I love u and u will be missed.”
With a report from The Associated Press