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Kobe Was 'More Than An Athlete': The Sports World Mourns A Basketball Legend

Valerie Samano, left, places flowers at a memorial near the Staples Center in Los Angeles, after the death of Laker legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday.
Michael Owen Baker

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Maria Onore Bryant, known as "GiGi," died in a Sunday morning helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. They were among nine people on board, all of whom were killed in the crash.

The news of Bryant's death sent shock and sadness throughout the sports world and beyond. Stars from across the NBA, fans and friends poured their emotions into tributes on social media to honor one of the greatest players in basketball history.

"Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling," Michael Jordan said in a statement. "I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me."

The Golden State Warriors cut their practice short to grieve Bryant's death. In Denver, the Nuggets and the Houston Rockets held a moment of silence to remember Bryant.

Later, the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs opened their game with matching shot-clock violations. Both teams blew through the 24-second clock — a nod to Bryant's former jersey number.

In Orlando, Fla., spectators at the NFL Pro Bowl interrupted a moment of silence dedicated to the Lakers star with chants of "Ko-be, Ko-be."

Later during a sideline interview, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees called Bryant's death "a tragic loss."

"I had so much respect for him as a competitor," Brees said. "I mean, one of the great competitors of any generation, not just with sports, but I think just the way he approached a lot of things and what he was doing now after basketball."

In L.A., fans celebrated Bryant's life by gathering outside of the Staples Center — some bringing purple and yellow flowers, or donning Kobe gear — where Bryant led the Lakers to five championships over his 20 years with the team.

Former President Barack Obama said the basketball legend was just getting started with a promising life off the court. "Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day," Obama tweeted.

" There's no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother," Shaquille O'Neal tweeted of his former teammate. " I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW."

O'Neal and Bryant were a fearsome twosome that took Los Angeles to three consecutive championships before their relationship soured. In later years, the two expressed regrets over their feud.

Former Celtics great Bill Russell called himself Bryant's biggest fan.

Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called Bryant a leader who "inspired a whole generation of athletes." After meeting Bryant as an 11-year-old, Abdul-Jabbar, 72, watched Bryant grow into a shooter who he once saw put up a 81-points in a single game.

"But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete," he said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emma Bowman
[Copyright 2024 NPR]