Following the news that Kobe Bryant died on Sunday, current and former Los Angeles Lakers paid tribute to the late athlete and former NBA star.
“These picture[s] are just the tip of the iceberg of our relationship,” Lamar Odom, who played for the Lakers from 2004 to 2011, wrote in a lengthy tribute on Instagram. “He taught me so many things in life that were necessary on and off the court. On the court he taught me how to carve out defenses and how to take my time. How to make winning my ultimate goal. Off the court he taught me to sign my own checks lol.”
Odom also compared Bryant’s death to the loss of his 6½-month-old son in 2009. “Of course anyone who knows my story knows I’ve suffered a lot of loss but the only loss I can compare this to is when I lost my son. Even though our relationship wasn’t father/son, it was more like him being a teacher and me being his brother,” he wrote. “I’m glad I got to be the ying to your yang as far as the locker room was concerned.”
On Sunday, ET confirmed that the 41-year-old retired athlete and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed after their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.
Magic Johnson, who returned to the Lakers for Bryant’s debut season in 1996, also took to Instagram to share his grief. “I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken,” he wrote. “I love him, his family and what he stood for on the court and off the court. My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone. It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players. He gave his knowledge, time, and talent to tutor so many at the youth level, collegiate level, and NBA and WNBA players.”
He continued by writing that “words can’t express the impact that he had on the game of basketball. I know basketball fans all over the world will miss him, especially the City of Los Angeles. He was such an icon but also did so much for LA. He was passionate about serving the homeless and was an advocate for women's basketball. Coaching his daughter’s basketball team brought him so much happiness. Kobe and I shared so many special conversations about life and basketball. We had so much in common off the court. I used to love talking to him about Lakers basketball, being fathers and husbands and how much we loved Italy. I will miss those conversations and him so much. Laker Nation, the game of basketball and our city, will never be the same without Kobe. Cookie and I are praying for Vanessa, his beautiful daughters Natalia, Biankaand Capri, as well as his parents Joe and Pam and his sisters. We will always be here for the Bryant family. We love you forever.”
Johnson also phoned CBS2 to talk about his former teammate. "People are going to miss his smile and just miss him because Kobe had an aura about him. I thought he was gonna live forever, I thought he was invincible. he played like that, he walked like that, he was just a confident young man."
Shaquille O'Neal, who played with the Lakers from 1996 to 2004, wrote on Instagram that “Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. We love our families. Whenever we got together I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gianna was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah. I miss you already brother. This is truly unbelievable.”
“There are no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of [losing] my [niece] Gigi & my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie,” O’Neal wrote in a second Instagram post.
Derek Fisher, who played for the Lakers at the same time as O'Neal, was still trying to comprehend the news of Bryant's death when he posted on Instagram. “You taught me and an entire generation what striving for excellence actually looks like on a daily basis. What you were building with Gigi, young girls, and women in sport will not end today,” he wrote.
NBA legend and former Lakers player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on Twitter that “most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete. pic.twitter.com/9EZuwk8wrV
On Sunday afternoon, LeBron James was seen arriving at LAX with other current members of the Lakers, visibly crying and hugging friends following the tragic news.
The following day, Bryant's former teammate, Lou Williams, posted a slideshow of the two on the court together on Instagram.
"I gotta 100 stories I can tell about you," he wrote. "I remember your last game you sat in the training room and patiently signed autographs and took pictures for any and everybody that wanted something signed. At least a few thousand items and you did it with a smile on your face. RIP 2-4 I’m hurt for your family and the millions of young hoopers like myself you gave a bar to reach for. ?? Rest In Peace Gianna and all parties onboard."
Bryant was the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points. He was surpassed in the rankings by James just one day before his death, and the late athlete’s final Instagram post was honoring James' accomplishment. Sharing a photo with James, Bryant wrote, "On to #2 @kingjames! Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next. ??."
Bryant played with the Lakers for all 20 seasons of his career, and was an 18-time All-Star and 15-time member of the All-NBA Team. In 2009 and 2010, the Lakers won NBA championships, and Bryant earned the Finals MVP Award after both series. He retired from the sport in 2016.