Kobe Bryant 1 year later: The crash, his memorial and his daughter, Gianna

One year ago today, news from southern California shook the sports world when it was announced that retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash. The helicopter was headed to a youth basketball game for his daughter, Gianna, and two other of her teammates who were aboard.

Kobe Bryant was larger than life when it came to sports figures, even in a town like Los Angeles. That’s hard to wrap your head around that statement, even when you consider this:

  • He was one of the most-popular basketball players to ever wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform
  • He was one of the most-popular NBA players in history
  • He was the most sought-after athlete (by fans) at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics
  • He was gracious when his records were broken, even the night before his death

Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on the morning of January 26 near Los Angeles, California, on his way to a youth basketball game. Bryant’s daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, was among the nine people on board who died. There were no survivors.

The autopsy reports for all victims say blunt trauma was the cause of death.

Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant watch during day 2 of the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships at the Woollett Aquatics Center on July 26, 2018 in Irvine, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Bryant played 20 seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers, and was third on the league’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points before LeBron James broke that record the night before Bryant’s sudden death.

After the fatal crash, the NBA, WNBA and entire sports world—including NFL players in the playoffs at the time—began paying tribute to Kobe and Gianna. The NBA All-Star Game dedicated its weekend to the basketball father and daughter, and the WNBA had a special selection for Gianna during its annual draft.

During a large memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Michael Jordan teared up as one of the many celebrities speaking at the memorial televised around the world.

Bryant won five NBA titles with the Lakers, two NBA Finals MVP honors, one regular-season MVP award (2008), and two Olympic gold medals playing for Team USA.

During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Kobe Bryant was the most-sought after American athlete for pictures, autographs and fist bumps. Even more than Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

Last April, the Women’s National Basketball Association began its 2020 virtual draft by announcing three honorary picks, which included Gianna Bryant.

Gigi, as Gianna was best known, was announced as an honorary pick along with Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were Gigi’s teammates and who also died in the January 26 crash.

Bryant played 20 seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers, and was third on the league’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points on the night before his death. New Lakers star LeBron James made a layup to move to pass Bryant for third all-time, which prompted Bryant’s final tweet in his young life.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant tweeted. “Much respect my brother … #33644.”

Bryant was respectful until the end. He was a competitor until the end. And, probably most importantly, he was a devoted father to the end.



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