Kobe Bryant, the basketball icon who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, leaving a legacy that spanned 20 years in professional sports and a growing second career as an investor.
Bryant was among nine people killed when a helicopter slammed into a hillside in Calabasas, California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. He was 41. Also among the victims were his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, another parent and a teammate from Gianna’s travel sports team.
A 6-foot-6 small forward, Bryant was a gifted scorer whose intensity and work ethic became lore throughout the sports world. He entered the NBA in 1996 directly out of high school, and as the youngest player in the league had an almost-immediate impact for the Lakers.
At the time the team was looking for the next star to continue a run of legends that included Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
Bryant delivered. During his 20-year pro career he won, in addition to his NBA titles, two gold medals in the Olympics, two NBA Finals MVPs and a regular season MVP in 2008. He led the league in scoring twice and retired with 33,643 points, third on the league’s all-time scoring list until he was passed this weekend by LeBron James. He wore two jerseys for the Lakers ,No. 8 and No. 24 and the team retired both.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it dispatched investigators to the crash site.
The superstar, his daughter and other passengers were traveling in a Sikorsky S-76B, a popular helicopter for commercial uses that has been used for decades. The helicopter identified by flight-tracking website Flightradar24 is owned by Island Express Holding Corp. in Van Nuys, California, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
Flightradar24 said preliminary data indicated the helicopter had taken off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, at 9:06 a.m. local time. It flew over Los Angeles and Glendale, then over the San Fernando Valley before turning toward the rugged Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu.
In its last recorded position at 9:45 a.m., the helicopter was at 1,700 feet altitude and flying at 176 miles per hour. Photos of the crash site show that it hit an undeveloped hillside.
The final tweet on Bryant’s personal account referred to James’s achievement on the court this weekend passing him as No. 3 on the all-time NBA scoring list.