Hours after news broke that NBA legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash near L.A., alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, 16 teams took to the court to carry on with their prescheduled games. Many teams held moments of silence—the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards took 8- and 24-second violations, the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs let the shot clock run down to 24 seconds, in tribute to Bryant's two jersey numbers, 8 and 24, during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant died at 41.
In New York, the Brooklyn Nets played the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The Garden bathed its exterior, as well as its arena ceiling, in the Lakers colors of purple and gold.
Bryant's death shocked players, and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving left the Garden after hearing the news and did not play.
By Monday morning, a makeshift tribute to Bryant was created at the Bryant Park subway station.
Bryant and his daughter Gianna were flying to her basketball game in Thousand Oaks, which Bryant was going to coach, when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas. The others killed in the crash included Christina Mauser, another coach of the Mamba girls' team; Gianna's teammate, Alyssa Altobelli; Alyssa's parents, college baseball coach John Altobelli (who coached Aaron Judge and Jeff McNeil) and Keri Altobelli; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton Chester; and the helicopter's pilot, Ara Zobayan.
Bryant and Gianna were in Brooklyn for a Nets game against the Hawks (Trae Young was her favorite player) on December 21st. A video of Bryant explaining some game strategy to her went viral at the time:
Bryant's on-court determination and brilliance—five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, 18-time All-Star, shooting free throws with a ruptured Achilles—defined basketball during the late 1990s, into the 2000s and the 2010s, helping the sport become even more popular overseas, and giving the NBA a new star after Michael Jordan's (first) retirement.
Bryant's legacy is tarnished, however, by his settlement of a 2003 rape allegation from an employee of a Colorado spa. As the Daily Beast reported, in spite of DNA evidence, "On Sept. 1, 2004, one week before opening statements were to be made, the case was dismissed after the accuser, who had been dragged through the mud for months by the media and Bryant’s defense team, informed the court that she would not testify. The woman had filed a separate civil suit against Bryant, and had agreed to dismissal of the sexual-assault charge against him provided the athlete issued [an] apology to his accuser, which was read in court by Bryant’s attorney." Bryant, who maintained that the encounter was consensual, later settled the civil suit.
Will Leitch wrote in New York that the incident "remains one of the most disturbing examples of the power celebrity and wealth can rain down upon rape victims. And an example today of how, even in a Me Too and Time’s Up age, fans are willing to move on from truly horrific allegations if enough time passes and they like the athlete enough." Or, as Charles A. Pierce put it in Esquire, "Kobe Bryant died on Sunday with one of the young women in his life, and how you will come to measure his life has to be judged by how deeply you believe that he corrected his grievous fault through the life he lived afterwards, and how deeply you believe that he corrected that fault, immediately and beautifully, and in midair."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The conditions on Sunday were reportedly foggy, and according to ESPN, "The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers that crashed into a hillside in Southern California on Sunday was in a climbing left turn about 2,400 feet high before it dove to the ground, a person familiar with preliminary investigative information about the fatal crash told ESPN. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ESPN that the pilot had only moments before he contacted air traffic controllers to say that he had begun a climb to 'go above the layer' of clouds present." The LAPD had grounded their fleet due to the fog.