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‘Mamba out’: Death of a basketball genius


“For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so [are] the sons of men snared, when [death] falleth suddenly upon them.”

—Ecclesiastes 9:12

No. This isn’t a dream. It’s not a cruel joke, or a baseless rumor.

The undisputed king of Los Angeles has fallen; and in the wake of his sudden demise, an entire city wallows in immense sadness.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way – so violently and prematurely. Kobe Bryant, in the minds of many, was going to live another 40 years. His fans planned to see him reach new heights. His critics thought he’d be around longer for them to continue throwing dirt on his legacy. Instead, as the weeks progress, everyone will be forced to live with only memories.

Bryant was entering the second act of his existence—primed to achieve levels of success as an entrepreneur and storyteller for kids that would rival his numerous achievements on the hardwood.

Everyone in LA and his supporters were looing forward to that. But these expectations will never materialize. Kobe is gone. And it seems the world knows he’s the last of a dying breed.

Cheers have been replaced with tears of grief and anguish, as the sports community attempts to swallow a bitter pill that’s comparable in size and scope to any beloved public figure who’s ever died tragically.

The Staples Center—a central hub for sports and entertainment fanatics throughout LA—will be surrounded by the remnants of candlelight vigils and somber ceremonies for weeks to come.

New attention will inevitably be paid to Bryant’s past, which includes a sexual assault charge in 2003, and the volcanic dissolution of his professional relationship with former teammate Shaquille O’Neil.

But in hindsight, Bryant’s personal and professional skeletons are what make his story more intriguing, and his death infinitely more tragic.

Over a career spanning 20 years, basketball fans watched in awe and wonderment as Bryant—lovingly known as simply “The Mamba”—wreaked unthinkable havoc on his opponents.

Using masterful combinations of jab steps, crossover dribbles, spin maneuvers, and pump fakes, Bryant—who entered the NBA at 17 years of age—eviscerated his foes in spectacular fashion.

He imposed his dominance on many occasions while the debilitating effects of chronic injury diminished his explosiveness and physicality.

A broken nose here, torn rotator cuff there, a broken finger, a bum ankle, ailing joints and battered knees—Bryant’s superhuman ability to perform through pain became legend as he dragged his failing body though two decades of competition.

Perhaps that’s why it’s been a challenge for Bryant’s supporters to accept the reality of his demise. For millions of admirers across the nation and beyond, he was a hero—is a hero like Superman—capable of making the impossible seem … possible.

However, as fate cruelly revealed, Bryant was mortal, not bulletproof as his outer glow indicated. His life was as fragile as the rest of our lives – and it was taken unceremoniously, tragically, in a matter of moments.

Bryant, one of basketball’s greatest players and most gifted scorers of all time, was among the passengers who died Sunday, Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash under foggy conditions in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown LA.

He was 41.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an afternoon news conference Monday that the passenger manifest for the helicopter indicated nine people were on board.

There were no survivors. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also killed in the crash.

The pair were en route to an AAU basketball game Sunday morning when the helicopter plummeted and crashed into a hillside. The official cause of the crash has not been determined.

Visibility was so low due to the fog that Los Angeles police had grounded its helicopters, spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

As fans around the world grapple with Bryant’s death, new clues are emerging about what happened shortly before the crash, CNN reports.

The helicopter was operating under “special visual flight rules” (SVFR), according to an air traffic control conversation with the pilot, captured by website

An SVFR clearance allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for regular visual flight rules (VFR).

Pilots can request SVFR clearance before takeoff or mid-flight, especially if conditions suddenly change, CNN transportation analyst Peter Goelz said.

While SVFR clearance is “pretty normal,” he explained, “it’s not something that’s often recommended.”

“If you’re a pilot, and you’re in marginal conditions, or changing conditions that become marginal, you might call air traffic control” to request SVFR, Goelz said.

If granted SVFR clearance, the pilot will typically keep tighter communication with air traffic control, CNN mentioned.

The Burbank Airport control tower allowed the helicopter to proceed using the special clearance, the audio reveals.

“Maintain special VFR at or below 2,500” the pilot confirmed to the controller.

Later in the flight, the pilot apparently asked for “flight following,” a service in which controllers are in regular contract with an aircraft.

The controller told the pilot “you’re still too low level for flight following at this time.” That could mean the helicopter was too low to be seen on air traffic control radar.

While authorities try to determine what went wrong, investigators are struggling to find clues in difficult conditions.

“It’s a logistical nightmare in a sense because the crash site itself is not easily accessible,” Sheriff Villanueva said.

News of the superstar’s death rocketed around the world, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock and disbelief.

“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe. He was like a little brother to me,” retired NBA great Michael Jordan said. “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.”

In a statement released by the league, NBA commissioner Adam Silver mentioned Bryant and his daughter saying, “The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. … We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization and the entire sports world.”

Former president Barack Obama expressed the nation’s shock, noting that Bryant “was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”

Bryant retired in 2016 as a five-time NBA champion; 11-time All-NBA first-team selection; 2008 MVP; two-time Finals MVP; 18-time All-Star and four-time All-Star MVP who spent his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also won gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics.

After the 2015-16 season, Bryant was third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 33,643 points, but he was recently eclipsed by fellow Laker and NBA superstar LeBron James.

After the game in which he scored 29 points to surpass Bryant, James reflected on his accomplishment and what it means for basketball.

“I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant, one of the all-time greatest players, one of the all-time greatest Lakers,” James said. “The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It’s just crazy.”

Post-retirement, “The Mamba” softened into a 6-foot-6 teddy bear, coaching his young daughter’s basketball team, opening the Mamba Academy for kids interested in sports and he began writing children’s books as if he were an extremely athletic version of Mr. Rogers.

Bryant transferred his competitiveness from the basketball floor to the Oscar stage when he took home the honor in 2018. The basketball star won best animated short at the 90th Academy Awards for “Dear Basketball,” which is based on a poem of the same name he wrote following his retirement from the Lakers at the end of the 2015-16 season.

At the time, Bryant tweeted his excitement and disbelief over his nomination writing: “This is beyond the realm of imagination. Thanks to the genius of @GlenKeanePrd & John Williams for taking my poem to this level. It’s an honor to be on this team.”

Bryant opened up about his accomplishments during a recent interview with USA Today and said his Oscar, Sports Emmy and Annie award were among the accolades he cherishes the most.

“It’s not something that was expected,” he said. “As a kid, you kind of have the goal of winning championships and all these sorts of things. Being in the industry that I’m in now? It wasn’t something that was thought of, me winning an Oscar.”

Bryant kept his gold trophies on full display as he sat and reminisced with close pals, former NBA standouts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson for their “All the Smoke” podcast for Showtime published earlier this month.

When asked about his ongoing friendly competition with the great Michael Jordan, he joked to Barnes and Jackson, “Mike ain’t getting one of these,” making reference to his coveted Oscar.

As time marches on, seasons change, and wounds heal, Bryant’s memory will linger in every crevice of Los Angeles. He’s bigger than basketball. That’s more apparent now than ever before.

Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, by their daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri and by his parents.