Kobe Bryant was hailed as an “extraordinary” athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions around the world after the basketball great died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.
The five-time NBA (National Basketball Association) champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist tragically died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in the incident in California on Sunday morning.
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people, including the pilot, had died in the crash but was awaiting the coroner’s report before confirming any identities as it would be “inappropriate” to do so.
Born in Philadelphia in 1978, Bryant, who was married to wife Vanessa and had three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to appear in the NBA and spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Gianna was a promising player herself, who Bryant had previously said would carry on his legacy.
Bryant was drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets at number 13, but was quickly traded to the Lakers where he would go on to become an 18-time NBA All-Star.
Alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant helped the Lakers win three NBA championships in a row between 2000 and 2002. It is a feat that has not been matched since, with the Golden State Warriors losing in last year’s finals having won two in a row.
However, his Lakers tenure did endure a scandal, when in 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort.
He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser, while the woman filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
Bryant, who was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, would go on to add two more NBA titles – in 2009 and 2010 – and on both occasions was named Finals MVP.
The Lakers retired both of Bryant’s shirt numbers – eight and 24 – in a ceremony in December 2017.
Bryant stood third in the all-time NBA points list until Saturday night, when current Laker LeBron James pushed him down to fourth place. Bryant scored 33,643 points in his NBA career.
The Lakers next play city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, with fans having congregated at the Staples Center – the Lakers’ home arena – to pay tribute to Bryant.
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