It suddenly became a sad day in the basketball community with news of the passing of former Lower Merion High and Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
News broke Sunday afternoon that the future Hall of Famer was among the nine dead in a helicopter crash earlier in the day outside Los Angeles. Bryant, 41, was traveling to a youth basketball function with his daughter, Gianna, 13, when the helicopter crashed. Those aboard also included another player and parent, ESPN is reporting.
“It is difficult to find words to express the passing of Kobe Bryant,” said Sixers seven-year coach Brett Brown, previously a longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant. “I had the privilege of coaching teams that competed against Kobe for 15 out of my 20 years in the NBA.”
As the Australia National Team coach, Brown also participated against Bryant and Team USA in the 2012 London Olympics. The Americans defeated the Boomers in the quarterfinals en route to winning the gold medal. Brown said he was also fortunate, as a Spurs assistant under Gregg Popovich, to coach Bryant in both the 2005 and 2011 NBA All-Star Games.
“Simply, my memories of him are deep and one of tremendous respect,” Brown said.
Bryant had 20 points in his final game against the Sixers on Dec. 1, 2015. The Sixers prevailed, 103-91, at Wells Fargo Center.
“After the game, Kobe visited with me for 45 minutes,” Brown said. "To sit alone with him in my office and listen to him share his memories of his storied career and upbringing in Philadelphia is an unforgettable memory.
“He talked passionately about growing up in Philly.”
Brown’s son, Sam, is a standout freshman at Bryant’s alma mater. Bryant scored 2,883 career points at Lower Merion to set an all-time Southeastern Pennsylvania record. As a senior, in 1996, he led Lower Merion to a 31-3 record and the PIAA Class AAAA state title. It was the school’s first state championship in over 50 years.
“The legacy that he started many years ago at Lower Merion High School continues with this storied program and coach Gregg Downer,” Brown said. “What I remember most [in regards to the Dec. 1, 2015 talk] was his clear excitement [for the new challenges that awaited him [in retirement] and the genuine love he had for his family who he could spend more time with.”
The Sixers were off Sunday and didn’t have any media obligations. However, several players expressed their sadness on social media.
“Man, I don’t even know where to start,” Joel Embiid tweeted. “I started playing ball, because of KOBE after watching the 2010 finals. I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life. I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I’m so FREAKING SAD right now!!!!”
The tragic accident occurred one night after Lakers star LeBron James surpassed Bryant for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James did so while scoring 29 points in a 108-91 loss to the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center.
James came into the night needing 18 points to pass Bryant (33,643) for third on the NBA all-time scoring list. The four-time league MVP surpassed that total. He now has 33,655 career points, trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).
Bryant won five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP award, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and was an 11-time first-team All-NBA selection.
“Kobe will be remembered as a maniacal competitor, a tireless worker, and incredible leader,” Brown said. “One of the game’s all-time greats. Our 76ers team mourns his tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday, that amid foggy conditions, a helicopter crashed and burst into flames. The article stated that the crash caused a brush fire that made if difficult for emergency workers and firefighters to get to the helicopter.
“Nahh, this can’t be real man,” Josh Richardson tweeted at 2:54 p.m.
Thirteen minutes later, the Sixers shooting guard tweeted “The world is sick right now. #24.”
Bryant wore No. 24 and No. 8 for the Lakers. The Lakers retired both of his jersey numbers on Dec. 18, 2017.
In honor of Bryant, the Toronto Raptors took a 24-second shot clock violation at the start of Sunday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, in turn, did the same. The 24 seconds were in memory of Bryant’s No. 24.
The National Basketball Players Association issued a statement on the passing of Bryant:
“We are stunned and devastated by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family.”
In a statement, Sixers general manager Elton Brand said he was incredibly saddened to learn about the passing of Bryant, Gianna, and the others who lost their lives.
“For years, I was able to witness him solidify his place as one of the greatest athletes and fiercest competitors in the history of sports,” Brand said in the statement. “His impact on the game of basketball made him a global superstar and none of it would have been possible without the tenacity, work ethic and unparalleled drive to win. He opened so many doors for our league and inspired a generation of basketball players and fans.”
Brand went on to say Bryant’s legacy in Philly and globally is “one of passion and greatness.”
“I will miss him dearly and I extend my sincere condolences to [Bryant’s widow] Vanessa Bryant and the Bryant family,” Brand said.