CHICAGO — Kobe Bryant’s friends, competitors and fans are mourning the loss of a basketball legend after he, his daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash Sunday.
Among them is longtime friend Michael Jordan, who said he was “shocked” at Bryant’s death, and loved him like “a little brother.”
In the complete statement posted to Twitter by spokesperson Estee Portnoy, Jordan said:
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. 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. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.
While Bryant played for the Lakers his entire career, plenty of basketball fans in Chicago expressed dismay over the loss of the NBA legend as well.
“Some reason this one just hit me harder than the rest because he was such an influential person in so many different ways,” said Brett Murphy, a CPS teacher.
For diehard Kobe Bryant fans, Sunday was surreal. For Northwestern volleyball players Danyelle Williams and Alana Walker, it was almost too real. Their dads, Antwan Walker and Aaron Williams, both played against Kobe in the NBA.
“My dad, Kobe was like his mentor and close friend; they played together but against each other, and for my family it was just because it makes you think it just could have been anybody,” Walker said.
Particularly difficult for fans was Kobe’s young age. At just 41 he was embarking on a new career as an entrepreneur, competing off the court.
“As they say, the ‘mamba mentality;’ he was one of the toughest, mentally toughest guys in the league,” said Jelani Floyd, Beyond Athlete Management.
It’s an emotional night for Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who had to rally his team to play despite the news Sunday. But he said he knew that’s what Kobe would have wanted.
“I know that the competitor he was – that’s what he would want; he’d want both teams to fight hard,” Collins said.
Collins said Bryant was someone that he “knew very well.” They met first when their fathers played together for the Philadelphia 76ers. He remembers when his mom was pregnant with his sister, and he said at the same time he remembers Kobe’s mother being pregnant with him.
“I have a lot of history with Kobe going back to when he was a little kid,” Collins said.
He said Bryant reminded him of Jordan, who had a similar amount of drive. Collins coached Bryant on three different teams as part of the U.S. National Team. He said one year when they were in China, Bryant woke him up at 2 a.m. so he could get rebounds for him.
“He just seemed so happy with his post-basketball life. To have something happen like this, it’s not fair,” Collins said. “We’re not just playing a basketball game; every minute’s precious, man.”