Simmons ‘shaken’ as Kobe’s final text revealed
The world is reeling at the loss of one of the best basketball players in history, who has perished in a fiery chopper crash with eight others including his teenage daughter.
Kobe Bryant, the legendary Los Angeles Lakers guard, died shortly before 10am Sunday local time (5am Monday AEDT), after his helicopter crashed into a hill in a celebrity enclave near Malibu.
Bryant, 41, died with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was known as Gigi, the pair travelling with some friends and another basketball coach to one of her games at the Mamba Sports Academy he founded.
Sources said the helicopter took off from Orange County, where Bryant lived, the LA Times reports.
LA weather was extremely foggy on Sunday morning and LAPD air support was reportedly grounded because of it.
World leaders, sports greats and celebrities joined an outpouring of tributes after the tragedy.
Aussie export Ben Simmons the death of Bryant and his daughter has "shaken me to my core".
It comes as Shareef O'Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, revealed Bryant reached out to him - less than two hours before the crash.
O'Neal posted a screenshot on Twitter, showing an Instagram direct message from Kobe who was checking in on the UCLA transfer.
Responding to Bryant asking how he was going, O'Neal updated his close friend and asked the same question - but never got a response.
Literally this morning you reached out to me ....😔 I love you forever unc❤️ I love you pic.twitter.com/3oVgvKKUkm— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) January 26, 2020
Meanwhile, a recent video filmed at a basketball game showed Bryant and Gigi court side has emerged, with him talking animatedly to his daughter about the game in front of them.
This video of Kobe talking basketball with his daughter Gianna from a few weeks ago takes on a whole new meaning. pic.twitter.com/vsVVucLSNe— Zach Haberman (@ZHaberman) January 26, 2020
Gigi was the second daughter to Bryant and his long-time wife Vanessa, to whom he had become engaged when she was just 17 and he was a 20-year-old rising star.
The pair welcomed their fourth daughter, Capri, last June. They also have two daughters named Natalia and Bianka.
BASEBALL AND BASKETBALL COACHES ALSO ON BOARD
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said a flight manifest listed eight passengers and one pilot. Officials had said earlier that five people were killed.
"There were no survivors … There were nine people on board the aircraft, the pilot plus eight individuals," Villanueva said.
At least two other passengers have been confirmed as John Altobelli, a baseball coach at Orange Coast College, and his wife Keri.
Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser was also on board, her husband Matt Mauser confirmed.
"My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much," he said in a post on Facebook.
Another player, and that player's parent, were also on board the chopper, Perez Hilton reports.
Authorities said firefighters received a call shortly before 9.47am local time about the crash.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said firefighters had to hike to the site of the crash with medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the blaze.
Responders included 56 fire personnel - firefighters, a helicopter with paramedics, hand crews - and sheriff's deputies.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office was working on retrieving the bodies and identifying the victims.
Jerry Kocharian told the LA Times the chopper was flying unusually low and struggling.
"It (didn't) sound right and it was real low. I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy," Kocharian said.
The helicopter vanished into a cloud of fog and then there was a boom.
"There was a big fireball," he said.
"No one could survive that."
Video of the crash scene shows the chopper started a small brush fire after it came down west of downtown LA.
Kobe Bryant is among those dead in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, a source confirms to ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 26, 2020
The National Transport Safety Board was investigating the crash, with early reports the helicopter had caught fire while flying.
Visibility was reportedly impaired by fog at the time of the crash.
The #LA Sheriff's department extends its deepest condolences to the families & friends of the 9 souls lost aboard this tragic helicopter crash in #Calabasas.— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) January 26, 2020
Our hearts go out to you in this extremely difficult time. #LASD
BRYANT'S DEATH SPARKS OUTPOURING OF TRIBUTES
Bryant played for 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA and is regarded as one of the greatest basketballers of all time.
He also won an Oscar in 2018 for an animated film.
Bryant visited Australia in March last year, with fans paying almost $8000 a ticket to hear him speak in Melbourne.
As news of his death spread, fans gathered near the hillside crash site to pay tribute to Bryant, who was a close-to revered figure in LA.
The chopper went down in an affluent neighbourhood, near the homes of celebrities including reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian.
The chopper was reportedly a Sikorsky S76, which Bryant was known for travelling in to watch Lakers games from his family home.
Tributes were pouring in for the 18-time All-Star, who led the Lakers to five NBA championships and scored more than 33,000 points before he retired in 2016.
US President Donald Trump tweeted, saying it was "terrible news".
Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020
.....Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020
Former US President Barack Obama, who hosted Bryant and the Lakers at the White House following the team's 2010 NBA Championship, sent prayers to Kobe's family on this "unthinkable day".
Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
Tiger Woods was told of Bryant's passing by his caddie Joey LaCava coming off the 18th green at Torrey Pines on Sunday at the Farmer's Insurance Open.
"Joey just told me coming off 18th green," Woods told CBS.
"I didn't understand why the people in the gallery were saying, 'Do it for Mamba.' But now I understand. It's a shocker to everyone. Unbelievably sad and one of the more tragic days."
US DJ Diplo is posting on Instagram from the Staples Center - home of Bryant's former team the Los Angeles Lakers and where the Grammy Awards are being held today - saying there's a "sombre mood right now".
"I'll be honest it's a sombre mood right now here at the Staples Center. Never take a moment foregranted," Diplo posted in the comments section of his Instagram account.
Lizzo opened the Grammys with her electric performance by dedicating it to Bryant.
"Tonight is for Kobe" before she poured her heart into a beautiful, medley culminating with her hit Truth Hurts and signature flute solo.
Host Alicia Keys then addressed the basketballer's tragic death with her opening monologue and an a cappella gospel performance with Boyz II Men.
Harvey Mason Jr, the interim Recording Academy chief, opened Grammy proceedings before the main show telecast with a call for a moment of silence.
"Since we are in his house, I would ask you to join me in a moment of silence," Mason said.
Madison Square Garden was lit up in the Lakers' gold and purple colours for the game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
Nets star Kyrie Irving didn't play, leaving the arena after hearing of Bryant's death.
Kim Kardashian's thoughts were with Bryant's wife and family.
View this post on Instagram
My heart is so heavy. No one should ever experience what Vanessa is going through. This has affected us all so much but I cannot begin to imagine what Vanessa is feeling losing her husband and baby girl. I cry just thinking’s about it. I am praying for their family and everyone’s families who perished in this unthinkable tragedy. Rest In Peace Legend
"He was such an icon but also did so much for LA," said Earvin 'Magic' Johnson.
"Coaching his daughter's basketball team brought him so much happiness."
Australian basketball great Andrew Gaze said he was "devastated" about the news.
Devastated. #24 #8. ❤️🙏— Andrew Gaze (@AndrewGaze10) January 26, 2020
"It is incredible sad, we have lost one of the all time greats," Mr Gaze told the Herald Sun.
"Words can't describe how disappointing and emotional it is.
"It is one of those deaths where it takes you by surprise. It is hard to process it all at the moment, it is pretty raw."
Mr Gaze said he met Kobe Bryant early in his career when they were both Adidas representatives.
They travelled for three days on a marketing tour in Australia.
"The thing that sticks out was how incredibly driven he was, he was always competitive," Mr Gaze said.
"He had this aura about him and incredible skill. His leadership and dominance will be remembered."
Gaze said Bryant would be remembered for his patriotism playing for the USA.
"One of the things I respect is his desire to play for his country, he won gold medals, world championships, he seemed to flourish in that environment," Mr Gaze said.
"He really embraced the spirit of the Olympics."
Brazilian footballer Neymar dedicated his second goal against Lille to Kobe.
Neymar dedicated his goal to Kobe Bryant. 👏 pic.twitter.com/owGzHj3MO2— Troll Football Media (@Troll__Footbal) January 26, 2020
The National Basketball Players Association said: "This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken."
Michael Jordan said Bryant was "like a little brother" to him.
The six-time NBA champion said in a statement Bryant would be remembered as one of basketball's greatest players.
"I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing," said Jordan, regarded by many as the greatest basketball player in history.
"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."
Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant's former Lakers teammate, posted a moving tribute with photos.
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic tweeted: "NO PLEASE, I'm shaking this can't be true please."
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said: "Please no. Please God no. It can't be true."
Tristan Thompson added: "I hope this isn't true man!!! Not Kobe."
Born in Philadelphia, the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, Kobe entered the NBA from high school and played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He won five NBA championships and was an All-Star 18 times.
He was also a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive team and was the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2008.
On his retirement in 2016, Bryant was the third-leading scorer in NBA history, a place he held in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, local time, when the Lakers' LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant's hometown.
Bryant's last social media post was to congratulate James.
"Continuing to move the game forward (at) KingJames. Much respect my brother."
Bryant was one of the game's most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise.
- additional reporting Brianna Travers