NBA legend Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, a source confirmed to ESPN. Bryant was 41.
Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball game with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who was 13, when the helicopter crashed. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a news conference that there were no survivors, and according to the flight manifest, there were nine people on board the helicopter.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said Sunday afternoon that the Federal Aviation Administration was on the scene and will work with the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the crash. He said authorities will not release the names of victims until they are identified and next of kin are notified.
Villanueva and Los Angeles County chief medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said later Sunday night that, given the terrain and condition of the crash site, they expect the recovery effort to take anywhere from a couple to several days. After recovery is complete, the identification process can begin.
The cause of the crash is unknown. The helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PT. It was going to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for Gianna’s game, sources told ESPN. The first 911 call reporting the crash was received at 9:47 a.m.
Orange Coast College baseball coaching legend John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa were among the victims, the Altobelli family confirmed. Altobelli won four California community college titles in his 27 years at the school.
Christina Mauser, 38, who coached a girls’ basketball team with Bryant, also died in the crash. “She was an amazing mother,” her husband, Matt Mauser, said in an interview with ABC News. “Our kids are amazing, they’re bright, they’re engaged, they engage in conversation, all that because of their mom. So I just, just try, I just want people to know how amazing my wife was.”
Matt Mauser said he had told his wife, “Christina, you’re doing something that you know, no other person in the world is doing, you’re coaching basketball with Kobe, and I’m so proud of you.”
Also killed in the crash were Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, a middle school student, sources confirmed to ESPN. Riley Chester, Payton’s brother, posted a tribute to his family on Instagram on Sunday, writing, “Rest in Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, was also killed, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Paula Lavigne.
The crash came one day after Bryant was passed by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James for third on the NBA career scoring list. As late as 10:39 p.m. ET Saturday, Bryant was active on social media, congratulating James on Twitter during the Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
A source told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that the Lakers found out about Bryant’s death while on the team plane flying home from Philadelphia.
“Everyone is in shock,” a team source said.
A visibly shaken James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked alone from the plane after it landed Sunday in Southern California.
James inscribed his sneakers with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” in gold marker before Saturday’s game, showing respect for Bryant, an 18-time All-Star with the Lakers who is eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame this year.
All week, in the lead-up to the milestone, James was quick to laud Bryant.
“It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,” James said. “Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration. It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling, and it’s dope.
“Kobe’s a legend. That’s for damn sure.”
A 6-foot-6 swingman with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA out of high school. In 1996, at age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history.
He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States. Now fourth on the NBA career scoring list with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and the regular-season MVP in 2008. He wore Nos. 8 and 24, both of which were retired by the Lakers.
Shaquille O’Neal, who won three titles with Bryant in Los Angeles, posted on Instagram: “There are no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my neice Gigi & my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !!”
This week marked the 14th anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, still the second-most points scored in an NBA game, behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100.
“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability. He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.
“We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization and the entire sports world.”
The NBA played its games Sunday — something the fiercely competitive Bryant likely would have appreciated. A moment of silence was held at the first game of the day, the Rockets vs. the Nuggets in Denver. The Raptors and Suns each allowed 24 seconds to run off the clock on the first two possessions without playing. The Magic took a 24-second violation, and the Clippers followed with an eight-second backcourt violation. The Knicks and Nets took shot-clock violations at Madison Square Garden, which was lit in purple and gold. The Pelicans and Celtics also took violations, and Boston’s Jaylen Brown pretended to take a shot as the shot clock hit eight.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team will retire the No. 24 jersey in tribute to Bryant.
Bryant passed his childhood idol, Michael Jordan, on the career scoring list in 2014. Jordan embraced Bryant, fueling his passion for the game. The two had a memorable matchup in Bryant’s first All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and later, when Jordan played for the Washington Wizards, Bryant scored 42 points in a half (en route to 55 in the game) against him.
“He knows how much I’ve learned from him,” Bryant said of Jordan in 2014, “from the other legends and him in particular.”
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” Jordan said in a statement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one [of]the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette [Prieto, Jordan’s wife] joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”
Phil Jackson, Bryant’s former coach with the Lakers, told Bleacher Report in a statement that “the crash was a tragedy for multiple families. My heart goes out to Vanessa and the families that lost loved ones. Kobe was a chosen one — special in many ways to many people. Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil.”
A Philadelphia native, Bryant was selected No. 13 overall in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers. He was credited with changing how NBA front offices viewed wing talent entering the draft out of high school.
“I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant. One of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers,” James said Saturday night. “The man got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”
Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have multiple jerseys retired by a franchise.
On Nov. 29, 2015, Bryant announced that he intended to retire at the end of the season, which launched a farewell tour for the ages. He played in 66 games that season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
In his final game, on April 13, 2016, Bryant scored 60 points, leading the Lakers past the Utah Jazz 101-96.
Another Lakers legend, Magic Johnson, said he was “heartbroken” over Bryant’s death.
As I try to write this post, my mind is racing. I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken.
Bryant married Vanessa Laine Bryant in 2001, and they had four daughters together. Their oldest, Natalia, is 17, and their youngest, Capri, is 7 months old. They also have a 3-year-old, Bianka. Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, is a former NBA player.
While Kobe Bryant was an unqualified star on the court, he had controversy off it. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. The criminal case was dropped the next year, but Bryant still issued an apology. He said he considered the encounter to be consensual but recognized that the woman “did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
After his playing days ended, Bryant transitioned into a post-basketball life that was far from retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.” He also created a children’s book series, inspired by his love for “Harry Potter,” and it became a New York Times bestseller.
People were glued to their phones and TVs around the world Sunday as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage.
Thousands of people remembered Bryant outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Mourners in No. 24 jerseys mixed with those arriving at the downtown arena in fancy dress for Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. People carried flowers and chanted “Kobe!” and “MVP!” under giant video screens showing Bryant’s smiling face.
“This is where we needed to be,” said Naveen Cheerath, 31, who was among those who gathered downtown Sunday.
“He’s one of the main reasons I’m still playing professional baseball,” McNeil told ESPN’s Jeff Passan of Altobelli.
McNeil said he struggled in college at Long Beach State, but one of his coaches called Altobelli, a California junior college legend, and asked him to bring McNeil to the Cape.
“He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer,” McNeil said. “Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted.”
On Sunday morning, Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard “what sounded like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.”
“It was very foggy, so we couldn’t see anything,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But then we heard some sputtering and then a boom.”
The fog then cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
Ramona Shelburne joins Adrian Wojnarowski as both share reactions, memories and context on Kobe Bryant’s death.
Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.
Osby said firefighters found a quarter-mile brush fire when they hiked into the scene. Paramedics were lowered from a helicopter.
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.
The NTSB sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days of a crash that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause of a crash can take a year or more.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
12:42 PM ET
I wanted to go last. To let everyone else write their stories on Kobe Bryant as he approached retirement and then top them all.
It was an audacious gamble. But that was my pitch to him in the winter of 2016. I thought the audacity would appeal to him. He’d admire the confidence, the swagger, maybe even chuckle at the arrogance.
He said he’d do a story with me about his life, but not out of vanity — mine or his.
“I’m not interested in self-serving pieces,” he said bluntly. “It has to be something where an athlete reads it and is inspired by something, learns something and pushes themselves.”
That was what he cared about as his basketball career came to an end: passing on what he had learned, what it really took to be Kobe Bryant. Not to be understood, because that was impossible with a soul as ruthless and relentless as his, but to inspire.
It’s all I can think about now as I grieve his death from a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, Sunday morning that killed him and eight others, including his daughter Gianna.
“I enjoy passing things on,” he told me in 2016. “Some people want to take it with them to the grave. Like ‘Lord of the Rings.’ The world is filled with a lot of Smeagols [who]can’t let go of the damn ring.”
Kobe Bryant let go of the damn ring when he retired. He ceded basketball and its stage to future generations. But he never stopped trying to inspire.
He wrote books, screenplays, podcasts, short stories, poems. The words poured out of him. I remember telling him once to take a rest, enjoy his retirement a little. Slow down.
No way, he said, laughing.
He reached out to athletes across all sports. He cold-called writers like J.K. Rowling, wanting to talk storytelling. Business leaders, actors, musicians, directors. And he didn’t just call them. He called them every day, sometimes three times a day. Hounded them. Just trying to understand what made them great and absorb whatever knowledge or inspiration they would give to him.
In a way, it was audacious of him to think he could glean enough in a few calls with these masters of the universe to master their crafts himself one day.
There’s that word again. Audacious.
That was Kobe.
He didn’t just have an iron will or unyielding confidence in himself. He believed he could bend the universe to his will.
And damn it, he often did.
That’s what he meant when he would tell people to “live mythically” or write on someone’s sneakers “Be Legendary.”
That’s the core of what he called the Mamba Mentality. And it’s what will survive him in death.
There are images that capture that mentality. The two free throws he took after tearing his left Achilles tendon in 2013. The jaw jutting out defiantly after a big shot. The fist pump. We’ll watch those images again and again now.
But you can’t capture a spirit like Kobe’s. And you sure as hell can’t replace it.
Which is why his loss has been felt so deeply around the world.
What we have now, what we have left, are all the ways he reached back out to us.
There’s a whole generation of athletes, writers, musicians, artists, actors, businesspeople and fans who felt like they were just a text or a tweet away from him. And when he saw something special in someone who reached out to him, he tried to answer.
“People who I know are passionate about what they do,” he explained. “I just like seeing them do great things. That’s what I enjoy.”
Ramona Shelburne joins Adrian Wojnarowski as both share reactions, memories and context on Kobe Bryant’s death.
Sometimes it was just a line or an emoji. But it seemed he could tell when someone needed to hear from him and what they needed to hear.
When I was pregnant with my son a few years ago, Kobe made a point of reaching out to see how it was going. He made me promise to let him know when the baby was on his way, and 38 hours into a difficult labor that ended in an emergency C-section, I got this text from him:
“You are bringing God’s greatest blessings into the world. You have been blessed to give birth, a gift some cannot have. Women are walking miracles.”
I was in a very rough place. Exhausted. Scared. I had a ton of support with me at the hospital and via calls and texts from friends and family. And yet that message hit me deeply.
Focus on the blessing, not the pain or the fear.
As the world grieves his loss, we’ll hear hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories from people Kobe touched like that. People who knew him a little, or a lot. People he didn’t know at all but simply reached out to because he thought he could help or inspire them.
Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker heard from Kobe before Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals. She’d won at every level except the WNBA, and her failure to do so was becoming a defining characteristic.
Kobe called and asked her, “What are you afraid of?” Parker recalled. “You’re either going to lose scared, or you’re going to win. It’s that simple.”
Parker played one of the best games of her life in that Game 5 as the Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx to win the championship.
She reflected on that call Sunday night. I told her that I would’ve reached out to him after something as awful and monumental as this.
“We know what he would say,” Parker said. “It was just better when he said it.”
The thing is, I don’t know what he would say about this tragedy.
About his death, his daughter’s death, the deaths of seven other people who boarded that helicopter in Orange County and headed to the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park.
Max Kellerman describes the conversations he had with Kobe Bryant, who was always talking about his daughters.
This was a man who lived dangerously, sublimating his fears into some deep, dark place, then reconstituting them into a relentless drive. He rode motorcycles and helicopters and pushed his body beyond normal human limits of pain tolerance, fatigue and endurance.
He wasn’t fearless. He had fears like everyone else. He just learned how to will himself past fear. Or maybe just how to scoff at it.
“To a certain extent, every day I was vulnerable,” he told me once. “You’re always dealing with fear, with something in your imagination. Something that you think can happen.
“But you just say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. But I’ll give it a try.'”
I don’t know what he thought about death or an afterlife. I never asked him that. But I know he contemplated it deeply.
During his recovery from his torn Achilles tendon, he became obsessed with the legend of Achilles, the warrior from Greek mythology who chose a short life that would be remembered for eternity over a long life of little consequence.
Kobe wasn’t given that choice by the gods, that we know of.
But he lived his life like it could end at any moment. Passionately, purposefully, painfully.
“You have to understand the fact that we’re human,” he said. “We all say s— that we shouldn’t say, we all do things we shouldn’t do. We all are angels, we are all devils.
“How are you going to understand that, other than to understand the fact that we’re all of those things?”
When we did that last story together, on his basketball death, I told him I was going to push him: on uncomfortable things like the fractured relationship with his parents, his 2003 sexual assault case in Colorado, being called “uncoachable” by Phil Jackson and selfish by teammates, rivals and business partners.
On what it really took to lead the life he led, the personal and professional mistakes he made in pursuit of basketball immortality.
He didn’t flinch.
At points it felt like he was egging me on. Push harder, further. Make him uncomfortable. Our interviews were competitive and combative. Like a game of one-on-one.
I told him I wasn’t buying that he was OK going out on a 17-win Lakers team. The Kobe Bryant I’d covered all these years would be raging at all this losing, not waving like some guy on a Rose Parade float as he said goodbye to fans across the NBA.
He never conceded the point.
“It’s simple,” he wrote late on the night of Feb. 6, 2016. “I adjust to the reality of the situation. Accept it. Be aware of the rage and accept it while focusing on having the mind for this challenge which entails patience, teaching and understanding. Different challenges call for different approaches.
“This isn’t a death to me so much as it is an evolution, a transformation, or as Joseph Campbell would say, ‘the new normal.'”
We talked often that year about Joseph Campbell and “The Hero’s Journey.” Kobe had read it cover to cover. Studied it deeply as both the author of his own legend throughout his 20-year career and the future author of what he hoped would be a second career as a legendary storyteller.
I told him I wasn’t buying his lack of nostalgia or nerves as his final game approached. He wouldn’t concede that point either…
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