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'Words can't describe the pain': Tributes paid to basketball star Kobe Bryant following his death

The 41-year old was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday.

former-nba-star-kobe-bryant-died-on-a-helicopter-crash The Staples Centre following the death of former NBA Star Kobe Bryant Hahn Lionel / ABACA/PA Images Hahn Lionel / ABACA/PA Images / ABACA/PA Images

FORMER US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has led tributes to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with his young daughter.

The world united in mourning to the 41-year-old, who is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players in history, following his death last night.

Bryant was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when the helicopter they were in crashed into a hill in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles.

Dozens of firefighters and paramedics battled across steep terrain to reach the flaming wreckage at the crash site but found no survivors, officials said.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said a team of investigators would be sent to California to probe the causes of the crash. 

The news sent shockwaves throughout the world, with sports stars, politicians and  musicians among those who paid tribute to Bryant.

“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” former US president Barack Obama wrote on Twitter.

“Laker Nation, the game of basketball and our city, will never be the same,” former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan said Bryant was “like a little brother” to him.

“Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling,” Jordan said. “We used to talk often and I will miss those conversations very much.”

helicopter-crash-kobe-bryant-killed A man pays respects at a mural of Kobe Bryant in downtown Los Angeles Matt Hartman / PA Images Matt Hartman / PA Images / PA Images

Golfer Tiger Woods, whose professional career started the same year as Bryant’s, recalled the basketballer’s competitive qualities.

“The fire,” Woods said of what he most remembered of Bryant. “He burned so competitively hot. He had such a desire to win. He brought it every night.”

“Any time he was in the game he would take on their best player and shut him down for 40 minutes. I think that’s one of the best things about him his whole career.”

Los Angeles City Hall was lit up in purple and gold to honour Bryant and the Grammys got under way with a tribute from singer Alicia Keys.

“To be honest with you, we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now,” Keys told the audience. “Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”

Glittering career

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was an iconic figure in basketball and became one of the faces of his sport during a glittering two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The helicopter crash came only hours after Bryant was passed by current Lakers star LeBron James on the all-time NBA scoring list in a game at Philadelphia on Saturday.

Bryant’s final post on social media had been a tweet congratulating James on surpassing him.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote. “Much respect my brother #33644.”

kobe-bryant-dies-he-was-41 Former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday Javier Rojas / PA Images Javier Rojas / PA Images / PA Images

Bryant bowed out of the NBA in 2016, scoring 60 points in his final appearance before his adoring fans at the Staples Centre.

The son of former NBA player Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, the Lakers legend was born in Philadelphia in 1978 while his father played for the 76ers.

The elder Bryant played from 1984 to 1991 in Italy, giving young Kobe a global worldview as he grew up dreaming of following his dad into the NBA.

He would eventually join the ranks of professionals at the age of 17, jumping directly into the NBA, only the sixth player to do so.

At 18, Bryant became, at the time, the youngest player or starter in an NBA game and the youngest winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

With Bryant paired alongside Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers captured three NBA titles in a row from 2000 to 2002, returning the team to glory days unseen since the 1980s.

However, a bitter feud with Bryant saw O’Neal eventually leave the Lakers, with Bryant portrayed as never having had childish ways while O’Neal never outgrew them.

For Bryant, the spectacular games continued. His 81-point effort against the Toronto Raptors on 22 January, 2006, was a score surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.

Sexual assault complaint

Bryant’s career was almost derailed in 2003 when he was arrested in Colorado over a sexual assault complaint filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee where he was staying ahead of knee surgery.

Bryant was accused of rape. He admitted to adultery but said he did not commit rape. The case was dropped in 2004 after the accuser refused to testify in a trial.

A separate civil lawsuit was settled under terms that were kept private.

In 2011, he also made an apology for using a gay slur to describe a referee and paid a $100,000 fine imposed by the NBA.

Bryant saw out his career with the Lakers, saving some of his best performances for the end of his two-decade stint in the league.

He scored a league season-high of 60 points against Utah in his last NBA game in 2016, becoming the oldest player in league history to reach that milestone at age 37.

He successfully branched out into the entertainment industry following his retirement.

In 2018, he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball”, a love letter to the sport which brought him fame and fortune.

“I love everything about this game,” Bryant famously said about basketball. “For me, it’s not a part of life, it is life, and it’s a part of me.”

© AFP 2020 with reporting from Stephen McDermott

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