Retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant has died in helicopter crash

Undated picture of mural of Kobe Bryant on the Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, just across the street from the Staples Center where Bryant spent much of his career. Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26, 2019. | Photo by Pixelbay, St. George News

CALABASAS (AP) — Kobe Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.

In this July 12, 1996 file photo Kobe Bryant, 17, jokes with the media as he holds his Los Angeles Lakers jersey during a news conference at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41. | Photo by Susan Sterner, Associated Press, St. George News

The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Authorities confirmed that five people died, with no survivors. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

A different person familiar with the case confirmed that Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed.

Word of Bryant’s sudden death at age 41 rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and dismay.

“Man I don’t even know where to start,” tweeted Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid. “I started playing ball because of KOBE after watching the 2010 finals. I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life. I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I’m so FREAKING SAD right now!!!!”

Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific scorer with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.

Former Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone is second on the all-time list behind former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players. After James passed Bryant on Saturday, he remembered listening to Bryant when the superstar came to speak at a childhood basketball camp.

“I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,” James said. “There’s no substitution for work.”

James later teamed up with Bryant on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

“He had zero flaws offensively,” James said. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. … He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”

Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life. He entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally.

Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA star Kobe Bryant died, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas, Calif. | Photo by Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press, St. George News

The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest as an upstart rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.

Bryant and Gasol formed the nucleus of another championship team in 2008, reaching three straight NBA Finals and eventually winning two more titles.

In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex. Prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge against Bryant at the request of the accuser.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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