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Kobe Bryant Dies In Helicopter Crash


We begin the program today with the shocking news that basketball legend Kobe Bryant has died. He was 41 years old. Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, one of his four daughters, were among those killed in a helicopter crash this morning in Calabasas, Calif. The Los Angeles County sheriff told reporters that nine people were on the flight. None survived. Bryant played his entire NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers, a career that spanned 20 seasons, 18 of those as an NBA All-Star. Joining us now to tell us more is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: Can you tell us any more about what happened?

GOLDMAN: Well, as you mentioned, authorities are now saying nine people died in this helicopter crash. Originally, the number was set at five. It happened this morning in Calabasas, Calif. - that's in Southern California - happened a little before 10 o'clock in the morning local time. Now, officials held a news briefing. And officials would not confirm the identities of any of the victims at the press briefing. But they did say a helicopter pilot and eight other victims died. The mayor of Calabasas confirmed to NPR that Kobe Bryant and its 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who goes by the nickname Gigi, were among the victims. The sheriff says they're waiting for the coroner's office to do its job, including notifying next of kin before confirming any of the identities.

MARTIN: And you were telling us earlier that there has been an enormous reaction to this very terrible news. Can - tell us a little bit about that.

GOLDMAN: Worldwide. You've got hundreds and hundreds who have gathered at the Staples Center in LA, where the Lakers play. You have, you know, just everyday fans. And you've got the rich and famous and, of course, within the basketball community - Shaquille O'Neal, who played with Kobe and won some titles for the Lakers with Kobe. They - you know, they chafed against each other at times because they were both alpha male personalities. But they certainly loved each other.

And Shaq tweeted - there are no words to express the pain I'm going through with this tragedy of losing my niece, Gigi, and my brother, Kobe. I love you, and you will be missed. My condolences go out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I'm sick right now.

And I mentioned a global reaction. Kobe was a global figure. The great Brazilian soccer player Neymar, playing in a game today, after he scored, he flashed with his fingers the numbers two and four as a tribute to Kobe, who wore that jersey number along with number eight. And both are hanging in the Staples Center rafters.

MARTIN: And there are too many titles and records and highlights associated with Kobe Bryant to name, but just give us a sense of why he was such a significant figure in the NBA and in the sport worldwide.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah, the numbers certainly - five-time NBA champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, the 2008 league MVP, 18 All-Star seasons out of the 20 he played for the Lakers. And the Lakers were his only team. But, Michel, I think NBA fans are certainly remembering the kind of basketball player Kobe was. He adopted the nickname Black Mamba from the Tarantino movie "Kill Bill." It was used as a code name for a deadly assassin known for their agility and aggressiveness. And that is the kind of basketball player Kobe Bryant was. He wasn't like a LeBron James, who loves to distribute the balls at key moments. Bryant loved having the ball in his hands, only in his hands in pressure situations. And he mostly delivered in those situations.

MARTIN: And as briefly as you can, off the court?

GOLDMAN: Off the court, he was carving a great life for himself. He had won an Oscar for an animated short film in 2018. There was a lot ahead of him and makes it doubly tragic that he's gone at 41.

MARTIN: That was NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.