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TRIBUTES have poured in for Kobe Bryant from around the world after the basketball great died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41 on Sunday.
The five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and with seven others in the incident in California.
Reports today suggested that the helicopter was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies had grounded their choppers.
Thousands gathered in Los Angeles, where Bryant spent his entire glittering 20-year NBA career, to pay tribute with a vigil outside the Staples Centre, home of the Lakers. It was also the site of Sunday’s Grammy Awards, where Bryant was honoured.
Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers’ purple and gold.
The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a prolific, gifted shooter with a sublime all-round game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.
Basketball and sporting figures from around the world likewise paid tribute, hailing Bryant as an “extraordinary” athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions.
Michael Jordan, arguably the most famous basketball player of all time, described Bryant as being like family.
He told Sports Illustrated: “I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often and I will miss those conversations very much.
“He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball.”
And former England football captain David Beckham, who played for the LA Galaxy from 2007-12 and was a friend of Bryant’s, paid his own personal tribute.
“This was one special athlete, husband, father and friend. Having to write these words is hard enough but also knowing we have lost an amazing human being and his beautiful and talented daughter Gianna is heartbreaking,” he posted on his Instagram page.
“He was determined to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to embrace the sport that he loved. His legacy will live on.”
The NBA schedule continued on Sunday, with teams purposely taking 24-second shot-clock violations and eight-second back-court violations to start the game in tribute to Bryant.
In Italy, the country where he lived between the ages of six and 14 while his dad played basketball, the national basketball federation has ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.”
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