NBA legend Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters were among several 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, sources said. 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 evening 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 was unknown. The helicopter departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. PT. 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.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley tweeted that the dead also included Christina Mauser, a girls basketball coach at a nearby private elementary school. Mauser’s husband, Matt Mauser, founded the Tijuana Dogs, a popular Orange County band. In a Facebook post, he said: “My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”
The crash came one day after Bryant was passed by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James for third on the NBA’s all-time 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 Lakers plane after it landed Sunday in Southern California.
James inscribed his sneakers with “Mamba 4 Life” and “8/24 KB” in gold marker before the game Saturday, 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 small forward 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’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and one NBA regular-season MVP in 2008.
Shaquille O’Neal, who won three titles with Bryant in Los Angeles, posted on Instagram: “There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you brother 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 ever 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 NBA game of the day, the Nuggets vs. the Rockets in Denver. The Raptors and Suns each allowed 24 seconds to run off the clock on the first two possessions without playing. Orlando took a 24-second violation, and the Magic 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.
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 all-time 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. With the Lakers, he wore Nos. 8 and 24, both of which were retired by the franchise. 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 for Los Angeles, 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.
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 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.”
People were glued to their phones and TV screens all 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 evening’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 on Sunday.
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.
“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 a report by 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.
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, Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.