Sports News, International, (Los Angeles), January 27:- National Basketball Association (NBA) legend Kobe Bryant died on Sunday when a helicopter crashed and burst into flames in foggy conditions in suburban Los Angeles, killing all nine people on board and plunging the sports world into mourning.
Bryant, 41, was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when their Sikorsky S-76 helicopter slammed into a rugged hillside in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said eight passengers and the pilot of the aircraft died in the accident.
“There were no survivors… There were nine people on board the aircraft, the pilot plus eight individuals,” Villanueva said.
The helicopter crashed in foggy weather in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. Authorities said firefighters received a call at 9:47 am about the crash, which caused a brush fire on a hillside.
The Los Angeles Police Department air support division grounded its helicopters until the fog lifted in the fternoon due to the weather conditions.
“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” said police spokesman Josh Rubenstein.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said firefighters had to hike to the site with medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the blaze.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history, an iconic figure who became one of the faces of his sport during a glittering two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dozens of firefighters and paramedics battled across steep terrain to reach the flaming wreckage of the crash site but found no survivors, officials said.
Father-of-four Bryant and his teenage daughter were later confirmed amongst the nine fatalities. No further information on the identities of the pilot and six other passengers was released.
Bryant’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world, with basketball stars left stunned by the news.
“Laker Nation, the game of basketball & our city, will never be the same without Kobe,” former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Another NBA icon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, added: “Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
At the Staples Centre in downtown Los Angeles, around 200 shocked fans gathered to pay tribute to the star as the venue geared up to host the music industry’s Grammy Awards later Sunday.
Across the NBA, tributes were held at several of the eight games scheduled for Sunday.
Denver Nuggets fans began chants of “Kobe, Kobe” as a minute’s silence was held before their game against the Houston Rockets.
The crash came only hours after Bryant was passed by current Lakers star LeBron James for third on the all-time NBA scoring list in a Saturday game at Philadelphia.
Bryant’s final post on social media had been a tweet congratulating James on surpassing him.
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote. “Much respect my brother #33644”.
Bryant was a five-time NBA champion in a career that began in 1996 straight out of a high school and lasted until his retirement in 2016.
He also was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, helping spark the US squad of NBA stars to titles in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.
Bryant bowed out of the NBA in 2016, scoring 60 points in his final appearance before his adoring fans at the Staples Centre.
It was a fairytale farewell to a sporting career which had begun two decades earlier.
The son of former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, the Lakers legend was born in Philadelphia in 1978 while his father played for the 76ers.
The elder Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giving young Kobe a global worldview as he grew up dreaming of following his dad into the NBA.
He would eventually join the ranks of professionals at the age of 17, jumping directly into the NBA, only the sixth player and first guard to make such a leap.
At 18, Bryant became, at the time, the youngest player or starter in an NBA game and the youngest winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
In 1998, he became the youngest NBA All-Star starter. In a 1999 campaign shortened by a labour dispute, Bryant started every game for the Lakers and signed a six-year deal worth USD 70 million.
Bryant saw out his career with the Lakers, successfully branching out into the entertainment industry following his retirement.
In 2018, he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball”, a love letter to the sport which brought him fame and fortune.
-(NAV, Inputs: Agencies)