‘Giant in sports’: World reacts to death of NBA star Kobe Bryant

Tributes pour in from around the world after former Los Angeles Lakers player was killed in a helicopter crash.

A five-time NBA champion, a double Olympic gold medallist, a speaker of multiple languages, an Oscar winner – and one of a handful of athletes known internationally simply by their first names.

Kobe Bryant, one of basketball’s all-time greats whose sporting appeal transcended the United States, was among nine people killed on Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles, home to the only team he ever played for: The Los Angeles Lakers.

The news of the 41-year-old’s death sent shockwaves through the sport world and beyond, with tributes pouring in from sports figures, politicians and fans around the world.

“He is a giant in the sports world,” Robert Littal, editor of Black Sports Online, told Al Jazeera. “It goes far beyond the NBA, far beyond basketball,” he said.

“It is hard to find anyone that doesn’t know Kobe. He was bigger than life.”

The cause of the crash – which also killed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna – was not immediately clear.

Global shock

The former NBA star was born in Philadelphia, in the US state of Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in Italy, where his father Joe Bryant – also a professional basketball player – played for eight years.

“Forever one of us,” Pallacanestro Reggiana – the basketball team from the Italian city of Reggio Emilia – wrote on Twitter with images of a young Bryant in uniform.

Upon returning to the US, Bryant jumped directly from high school to an illustrious 20-year career with the Lakers.

His on-the-court feats included winning the NBA championship on five occasions, as well as earning 18 All-Star selections, a regular-season Most Valuable Player Award in 2008 and two NBA finals MVP awards.

He also won two Olympic gold medals for the US (2008 and 2012) before retiring in 2016, in a legendary farewell match in which he scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz.

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“He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary,” Commissioner Adam Silver said.

His Lakers tenure was marred by scandal when in 2003, Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. Bryant said the two had consensual sex and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.

After retiring, Bryant remained hugely popular with basketball fans worldwide and delved into other projects, including opening a production company.

In 2018, he won an Oscar for his contributions to Dear Basketball, an animated short about his relationship to the game. 

“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 said on Twitter. 

US President Donald Trump said: “The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this even more devastating.”

Kobe, who also spoke Italian and Spanish, was also a hugely popular figure in Asia, especially in China.

His playing appearances, including at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics where the US won, were exceeded by his promotional appearances in the country, both on behalf of his own brand and basketball generally.

He remained popular in China even after his retirement, frequently engaging via social media with Chinese fans.

The hashtag “Kobe passed away” was viewed more than 1.2 billion times on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo, and sparked more than a million posts within hours of the news.

Los Angeles Lakers NBA star Kobe Bryant poses with fans for pictures while attending a youth basketball final match in Hong Kong August 3, 2013. Bryant kicks off his China tour in Hong Kong, where he
Bryant poses with fans while attending a youth basketball final match in Hong Kong August 3, 2013 [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

In Taiwan, where the NBA is also an enormous draw, President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that her “thoughts go out to the Bryant family & the families of all those who lost loved ones today.”

“Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players, & his legacy will live on through those who loved him,” Tsai wrote.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also took to Twitter to express his condolences for Bryant’s death, describing him as a “sports giant” who “will be remembered forever”.

Former international football stars – Thierry Henry from France and Argentia’s Diego Maradona as well as current Barcelona striker Luis Suarez – were among those who offered their condolences on Twitter, as they shared old images with the NBA star. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies