Kobe Bryant, 41, the legendary basketball star who spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, was killed when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed and burst into flames Sunday morning amid foggy conditions in the hills above Calabasas, sources told the Los Angeles Times.
Bryant’s death stunned Los Angeles and the sports world, which mourned one of basketball’s greatest players. Sources said the helicopter took off from Orange County, where Bryant lived.
The crash occurred shortly before 10 a.m. near Las Virgenes Road, south of Agoura Road, according to a watch commander for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Four others on board also died.
Bryant was in Philadelphia last night to watch LeBron James pass him for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.James set the record in the third quarter of the Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the 76ers, scoring 33,655 points in his career. Bryant, who retired in 2016 after spending his career with the Lakers, scored 33,643 points.
Bryant was born in Philadelphia.His father, Joe, played eight NBA seasons in the ‘70s and ‘80s for the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and, in his last stop, the Houston Rockets under then-coach Del Harris. A light-hearted, 6-10 string bean who went by his Philadelphia playground nickname, “Jellybean,” Joe Bryant played college ball at La Salle and married Pam Cox, the sister of a starting guard at Villanova. They named their first son Kobe, after the city in Japan.
Bryant excelled at Lower Merion High in Ardmore, Pa., near Philadelphia, winning numerous national awards as a senior before announcing his intention to skip college and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 13th overall by Charlotte in 1996, but the Lakers had already worked out a deal with the Hornets to acquire Bryant before his selection. Bryant impressed Lakers General Manager Jerry West during a pre-draft workout session in Los Angeles. Less than three weeks later, the Lakers traded starting center Vlade Divac to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant’s rights. Bryant, whose favorite team growing up was the Lakers, had to have his parents co-sign his NBA contract because he was 17 years old.
The 6-foot-6 guard made his pro debut in the 1996-97 season opener against Minnesota; at the time he was the youngest player ever to appear in an NBA game. He started in only a handful of games during his rookie season, coming off the bench in support of Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. However, coach Del Harris played him more as the season progressed, allowing Bryant to showcase the skills that made him a top candidate for rookie of the year. Those skills were also on display when Bryant won the 1997 NBA slam dunk competition.
Bryant continued to improve during his sophomore season in the league, averaging 15.4 points per game. However, his breakout came in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season when he started in all 50 games after the Lakers traded away Van Exel and Jones.
Bryant and leading scorer Shaquille O’Neal quickly morphed into one of the most lethal scoring and defensive combinations in the league. Together, with coach Phil Jackson guiding them, they led the Lakers to three consecutive championships (2000-02) as Bryant began to cement his place as the game’s top player.
Despite coming together to win some of the most closely fought playoff series in Lakers history, friction started to develop between Bryant and O’Neal. Tension between the two stars continued to build during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons as the Lakers failed to capitalize on their status as top contenders for the NBA title. Making matters worse, Bryant was arrested in July 2003 on allegations of sexual assault.
The charges were eventually dropped, but Bryant’s reputation took a hit.
After the Lakers lost to Detroit in the NBA Finals with a star-studded team that included Karl Malone and Gary Payton, O’Neal was traded to Miami and Jackson’s coaching contract was not renewed. As the team’s undisputed leader, Bryant signed a seven-year contract to remain with the team.
Bryant summed up the tensions between him and O’Neal after the Lakers won the NBA title in 2009: “We’re great as individuals, but ... it’s probably the first dynamic duo that had two alpha males on one team. We managed to make it work for three championships.”