By Gavin Gibbon
Five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in helicopter crash
Basketball fans throughout the Middle East are mourning the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant who died on Sunday when a helicopter he was riding in crashed and burst into flames in thick fog, killing all nine people on board including his teenage daughter.
Bryant, 41, was travelling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers and crew when their Sikorsky S-76 helicopter slammed into a rugged hillside in Calabasas, west of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.
Within hours of the crash, a video was being widely shared on social media that purported – falsely - to be the crash. Middle East-base fans, however, quickly pointed out that the video was of a 2018 helicopter crash in Ras Al Khaimah that left four people dead.
Many fans also posted memories of their encounters with Bryant in Dubai and elsewhere.
“Very sad to hear the news of the death of Kobe Bryant, with whom we spent very special days in Dubai in 2013,” tweeted the official account of Real Madrid’s basketball team. “It’s terrible that someone so young, a special player, leave in such a traffic fashion. A black day for basketball.”
Muy tristes e impresionados al conocer la noticia del fallecimiento de Kobe Bryant, con quien compartimos dos días muy especiales en Dubai en el año 2013. Terrible que alguien tan joven -un jugador único-, se marche de forma tan trágica. Semana negra para el baloncesto. pic.twitter.com/ahXy5XugHG— Leyendas Blancas (@LeyendasRMB) January 26, 2020
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history, an iconic figure who became one of the faces of his sport during a glittering two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was no stranger to the Middle East. In 2013 he made his first visit to Dubai for the Kobe Bryant Health and Fitness Weekend, where he was presented with a DMCC business license by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre Authority (DMCC).
My deepest condolences to @vanessabryant and the family of @kobebryant . Number 24 will forever be with us. Here is to my greatest of all time. https://t.co/9pAfhDxAt5— ahmed binsulayem (@ahmedbinsulayem) January 27, 2020
More recently, he is said to have met in February last year with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the daughter of a former ambassador to the US and the first female head of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, on the topic of “the development of basketball in Saudi Arabia”.
The National Transportation Safety Board said an 18-strong team of investigators would be sent to California to probe the causes of the crash.
Bryant's death sent shockwaves throughout the world, with basketball stars stunned by the news.
"Laker Nation, the game of basketball & our city, will never be the same without Kobe," former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan said Bryant was "like a little brother" to him.
"Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling," Jordan said. "We used to talk often and I will miss those conversations very much."
Tributes to Bryant flooded in from former US presidents, pop stars and athletes from different sports, a sign of how the man known as the "Black Mamba" had transcended basketball.
"Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act," former US President Barack Obama wrote on Twitter.