The sports world was devastated by the news of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s deaths in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday.
The five-time NBA champion and fourth all-time leading scorer and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were on their way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Gianna was set to play with her travel team.
Poor weather conditions caused the helicopter to go down, killing all nine on board.
The death of the legendary Laker came the day after current Laker LeBron James scored his 33,644th NBA point, passing Bryant as the third all-time leading scorer. In his return to Los Angeles following the Lakers victory in Philadelphia, the NBA star was visibly distraught, as were players around the league.
“I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly,” said James in an Instagram post. “Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have.”
Games were played as scheduled on Sunday, with players on all teams agreeing to start each game by taking 24-second shot clock violations or 8-second violations in honor of Bryant’s 24 and 8 jerseys, both retired by the Lakers.
Players were seen with tears in their eyes and heads in their hands across the league. Former Lakers and Team USA teammate Tyson Chandler was seen fighting back tears on the Rockets bench, while Cory Booker was teary-eyed on the court as the Memphis crowd chanted “Kobe.”
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who faced Bryant in two NBA Finals while coaching the Celtics, was in tears ahead of the Clippers game.
“We’re all Lakers today,” said Rivers. “People think because you compete against each other that you don’t have a relationship and you don’t like them, I think it’s the exact opposite. Sometimes the more you compete, the more respect you have for the opponent. That’s the way I felt with Kobe.”
Above all, it was who Bryant was off the court that made him special.
Bryant and Gianna were seen around the NBA making courtside appearances as he taught his daughter about the game, a request Gianna had made a couple of years prior.
The two were seen in Dallas as Bryant heckled young star Luka Doncic before Gianna took a photo with the Mavericks phenom, and in Brooklyn where Bryant was seen giving Gianna pointers before speaking to good friend Kyrie Irving and L.A. native Spencer Dinwiddie at the end of the game.
“The lesson of hard work and the Mamba mentality are a big part of where I am today,” said Dinwiddie, who grew up idolizing Bryant. “He inspired a lot of kids, and I was one of them.”
The entire sports world paused to give their respects to one of the world’s greatest competitors. Nick Kyrgios wore a Bryant jersey onto the court at the Australian Open before his match with Rafael Nadal, even warming up in it.
Neymar, a massive basketball fan, put up a 24 with his fingers following a goal. In Spain, players stood in silence ahead of a Real Madrid training session.
The NBA decided to postpone Tuesday’s contest between the Lakers and Clippers out of respect for the Lakers organization, giving players and staff extra time to grieve, as well as the city of L.A. itself.
Petitions have started requesting the NBA change the logo of Jerry West to a silhouette of Bryant. Others have asked the NBA to add a second black band to all jerseys, joining the one in honor of former NBA commissioner David Stern, who passed away earlier this month.
It was David Stern who shook Bryant’s hand for the first time as an NBA player when he was drafted 13th overall in 1996.