Kobe Bryant’s death along with his 13-year-old daughter in a helicopter crash has sent shockwaves across the world of sports and entertainment. NBA stars past and present were deeply affected by the 41-year-old sports icon’s tragic passing, but Bryant’s friendships went well beyond pro basketball.
Recent Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Derek Jeter published an essay about Bryant for his Players Tribune.
Jeter wrote movingly of Kobe Bryant, the family man:
Put aside his famous work ethic, the Mamba mentality, that incredible will to win. I’ll let everyone else tackle that. But when I think of Kobe, I really just end up thinking about those special few personal conversations that we were lucky enough to share together, each time one of us had a new baby daughter.
I end up thinking about how, here was this guy who was beyond gifted as an athlete, who was obsessed with being a champion, who was known as an absolute assassin with a ball in his hands. And in the moments I got to spend with him? He didn’t really talk about any of that. He cared much more about being a husband to Vanessa and a dad to his girls. He loved his family — he was his family. That’s what was important.
“Kobe just loved being a dad,” Jeter wrote, “And when it comes to his legacy, I really hope we’re able to take the time to remember that as an essential part of it.”
But Kobe Bryant and basketball are inseparable in the public mind, and his fellow NBA stars past and present were among the most profoundly affected by his death.
Michael Jordan recognized a kindred spirit in Bryant, who never made a secret of his ambition to equal the older superstar’s level of achievement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling,” Jordan wrote in a statement released after the news of Bryant’s death began to spread, “I loved Kobe—he was like a little brother to me.”
Former teammate Shaquille O’Neal might as well have lost his flesh-and-blood family.
Shaq tweeted that there were “no words to express the pain” he felt at losing his “niece” Gigi Bryant and his “brother @kobebryant.”
“I love u,” Shaq wrote, “and u will be missed.”
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Lebron James–whom Bryant often referred to as his “brother”–shared a handful of pictures of the two on Instagram, saying, “I’m not ready but here I go.”
“Man (I’m) sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had,” James wrote on Instagram.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson called Bryant his “friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother.”
In a series of tweets, Johnson encapsulated the shock the city of Los Angeles felt as well, writing, “Laker Nation, the game of basketball & our city, will never be the same without Kobe.”
“We will always be here for the Bryant family,” Johnson wrote.
Dwayne Wade’s video response was moving in part because his pain was so raw.
“Today is one of the saddest days of my lifetime,” Wade said. Calling it a “bad dream” and “a nightmare,” a visibly tearful Wade then addressed viewers, saying, “I know we all feel the same way about such a great leader, such a great champion.”
Tiger Woods was playing his final round at the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open when he was puzzled by hearing fans in the gallery yelling, “Do it for Mamba!” He found out what they meant just after the final hole.
In his brief interview above, Woods’s shock was obvious as he almost seemed at a loss for words, saying “It’s a shocker to everyone. I’m unbelievably sad, and it’s one of the more tragic days. The reality is setting in because I was just told about five minutes ago.”
Patriots QB Tom Brady’s acknowledgment of Bryant’s death was simple but eloquent.
To underscore the fact that the impact of Kobe’s and 13-year-old Gianna Bryant’s deaths wasn’t just felt by fans and fellow athletes in the United States, Paris Saint-Germain soccer superstar Neymar Jr. gave a tribute after scoring his second goal of a game, raising two and four fingers on each hand—a nod to Bryant’s jersey number, 24.
And in nearly every NBA game that took place Sunday night, after news of Bryant’s death was confirmed, teams took turns intentionally violating the shot clock. They would hold the ball in the backcourt for 24 seconds and eight seconds—homages to Bryant’s jersey numbers over the course of his career.
Numerous celebrities outside sports also eloquently acknowledged the tragedy—they included a former president, superstar rappers, comedians, Oscar-winning actors and supermodels.
One of the most compelling images, however, didn’t need words or gestures. It was of one man alone with his thoughts.
It was video footage of LeBron James, a player very much in Bryant’s mold—a gifted high school athlete who skipped college play altogether and went straight to the pros—that said volumes about the loss.
In the video, James can be seen exiting a plane and walking slowly across the tarmac, hood on, head down, wiping tears away.
Rest in Power, Kobe Bryant.