Kobe Bryant, Lakers legend and NBA great, dies at 41 in helicopter crash

Kobe Bryant died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. He was 41 years old. His daughter, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, was also among those killed in the crash. 

An investigation is ongoing, per the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which confirmed that there were no survivors among the nine people aboard the aircraft but would not release their names at the time. However, Orange Coast College baseball coaching legend John Altobelli, as well as his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were among the victims of the crash, according to a statement released by the school. Altobelli coached at Orange Coast College for 27 years, and he led the school to four state titles during his tenure. 

Here is what has been confirmed so far:

  • The crash happened just before 10 a.m. PT
  • Nine confirmed deaths and no survivors
  • In addition to Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, the victims include John Altobelli, a baseball coach at Orange Coast College, alongside his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa. Also, CBS News has confirmed that Christina Mauser was also among those involved in the deadly crash. 
  • Other victims include Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Ara Zobayan.
  • A brush fire caused by the crash prevented first responders from immediately getting to the site
  • Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby: "The Los Angeles County Fire Department's initial response was 15 pieces of apparatus and 56 personnel."
  • Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby: "At 9:47 a.m. the Los Angeles County Fire Department received a 911 call of a potential helicopter down and a brush fire...Upon arrival, our firefighters discovered approximately a quarter-acre brush fire that resulted from a crash on the hillside."

  • There was no black box in the helicopter. Having one was not a requirement. 

  • The pilot had 8,200 hours of flight time as of records submitted in July. His record, along with the records of any crew, will be examined during the investigation. 

  • The helicopter circled Glendale for 14 minutes after takeoff. The pilot proceeded to climb into the clouds before taking a sharp turn and ultimately hitting the ground. 

  • The bodies of all nine victims of Sunday's crash have been recovered according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office. They have been "transported to the department's Forensic Science Center," the coroner's department said in a statement. The final body was recovered on Tuesday.

  • Investigators have not yet established the cause of the crash. They will examine the pilot's history, the condition of the aircraft and the weather conditions among various other things during the investigation. 

  • The helicopter carrying Bryant and eight others did not have legal authority to fly with instruments, according to a report from the New York Times. 

Bryant, an NBA superstar and Orange County resident, famously took a helicopter to games and practices while playing for the Lakers as a means of avoiding traffic and the confined space of a car. He continued doing so in his retirement for business and personal reasons. Bryant and his daughter were reportedly on their way to participate in travel basketball when the helicopter went down. Gianna, nicknamed "Gigi," inherited her father's love of the sport and hoped to one day play in the WNBA.

Bryant's helicopter was granted permission to fly "even though weather conditions were worse than usual standards for flying," according to a New York Times report Monday. A witness called the fog present Sunday "as thick as swimming in a pool of milk." Prior to the crash, the pilot reportedly asked for "flight following," which would have allowed air traffic controllers to track the helicopter and remain in regular communication with it, but was told that the flight was "too low level for flight following at this time." In simpler terms, the helicopter was flying too low to appear on radar. 

Late on Wednesday evening, the Lakers released a statement that read, "We are devastated and have been forever changed by the sudden loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. We send our love to Vanessa, the Bryant family, and to the families of the other passengers. Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever."

The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 career points, Bryant was a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers and 18-time NBA All-Star who was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 2008. He was twice an NBA Finals MVP and an 11-time All-NBA First Team selection. The two-time NBA scoring champion was known just as much for his prowess on the other end of the court, picking up nine selections to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Beyond his NBA achievements, Bryant, who spent much of his youth in Italy, had a celebrated international career as one of the catalysts behind Team USA's renaissance after earning only a Bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics. His commitment to play for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics helped in the recruitment of other superstars, and players on the team have spoken widely about his work ethic and the impact that he had on the team's mentality. He led the team to a narrow victory over Spain in the Gold Medal Game and played on the 2012 gold medal-winning team as well. 

"The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. 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," wrote NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a statement released by the league. "... 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."

Bryant is especially revered among Lakers fans. A high school phenomenon in Philadelphia and the son of former NBA player Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, Kobe was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 but immediately traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

He was the youngest player in NBA history when he took the court in 1996 and spent his entire 20-year career in Los Angeles. Bryant ultimately played more games in purple and gold than anyone in franchise history and holding distinctions as the team's all-time leader in points, minutes and steals. His self-bestowed "Black Mamba" nickname has persisted well beyond his career. Players wear the distinction of having a "mamba mentality" as a badge of honor. As Bryant himself has said, that means "constantly try[ing] to be the best version of yourself."

Both Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal -- Bryant's former teammate -- have called Bryant the greatest player in Lakers history, a statement that would be supported by millions of fans. Both of Bryant's jersey numbers -- 8 and 24 -- were retired by the Lakers. He is the only player in NBA history to have two numbers retired by the same team after wearing No. 8 for his first 10 seasons in the NBA and No. 24 for his final 10. 

Bryant was particularly known for his prodigious scoring ability. In one legendary game in 2006, Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second-most in NBA history trailing only Wilt Chamberlain's 100. He scored 60 points in his final NBA game in 2016, a record for any player in their finale. 

That skill as a scorer drew constant comparisons to Michael Jordan, whom Bryant modeled many elements of his game after. Bryant's fadeaway jumper is nearly identical to Jordan's, and as the game drifts away from the isolation scoring that made them both so special, it is unlikely that we ever see a player as similar to Jordan as we did in Bryant. Bryant's five championships fell just short of Jordan's six.

The first three of them were won alongside O'Neal, a superstar with whom he often clashed over practice habits and playing style. O'Neal was traded in 2004, and the two have long since patched up their differences. Bryant won two more championships alongside Pau Gasol, while O'Neal won another with Dwyane Wade. The Lakers are the last team to win three consecutive championships thanks to the Bryant-O'Neal partnership. 

Bryant had spent his retirement working on a variety of different projects. He claimed that he wanted to be known as a storyteller and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2018 for Dear Basketball, a film based on the essay he wrote announcing his retirement. He also released the first book in a planned young adult fantasy series, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, written alongside Wesley King. His entertainment company, Granity Studios, had a number of other projects in the works. 

LeBron James, viewed by most as the heir to Bryant's title as the league's best player, signed with the Lakers in 2018. James passed Bryant as the NBA's third all-time leading scorer on Saturday night, achieving that distinction against Bryant's hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644," Bryant tweeted on Saturday night.

While beloved by NBA fans around the globe, Bryant's life was not without controversy. Sexual assault allegations were levied against him in 2003 by a female hotel employee in Eagle, Colorado. The charges were ultimately dismissed, and Bryant settled a separate civil suit over the matter. Though he did not admit guilt, he publicly apologized for the incident while claiming that he considered their encounter consensual.

However complicated that makes Bryant's legacy, what cannot be debated is his impact on NBA history. For two decades, he was among the league's most polarizing and productive players. Bryant was involved in almost every major basketball story of the past 25 years, and he will be sorely missed by a league that idolizes him. 

Kobe and Gianna are survived by a large immediate family, including his wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella and Capri Kobe.

For more news on the California helicopter crash, visit CBS News.

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

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