Sports

Athletes pay tribute to Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan says: 'He was like a little brother to me'

Key Points
  • Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash Sunday.
  • The former Los Angeles Lakers' death continues to shock not only the National Basketball Association but the sports world in general.
  • The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors each used their first possessions to purposely violate the 24-second shot clock as a tribute to Bryant, who wore No. 24 for part of his career.
  • "We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much," NBA legend Michael Jordan said.
Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Washington Wizards in the first half at Verizon Center on December 2, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Rob Carr | Getty Images

The news of Kobe Bryant's death continues to shock not only the National Basketball Association but the sports world in general.

Athletes from New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady to boxing legend Mike Tyson shared their reactions to Bryant's passing on social media, joining many who were completely stunned and saddened by the passing of one of the world's most celebrated athletes.

Bryant was confirmed dead after a helicopter carrying the former Los Angeles Lakers legend, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers crashed around 10 a.m. Sunday morning in Calabasas, near Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Bryant was 41.

"The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning. He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections, and two Olympic gold medals.

"But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability," Silver's statement continued. "He was generous with the wisdom he acquired and saw it as his mission to share it with future generations of players, taking special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Vanessa, and their family, the Lakers organization, and the entire sports world."

Bryant, who played all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Lakers, shared his last social media message via Twitter when he congratulated current Lakers superstar LeBron James for passing him on the NBA's all-time scoring list. With 33,655 career points, James moved past Bryant (33,643) to place third.

"Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644," Bryant tweeted at 10:39 p.m. after the Lakers fell to the Philadelphia 76ers, 108-91.

Kobe Bryant #8 of the Western Conference All Stars talks with Michael Jordan #23 of the Eastern conference All Stars during the 2003 NBA All-Star Game at the Phillips Arena on February 9, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Andrew D. Bernstein NBAE | Getty Images

A well-known mentor of Bryant's, NBA legend and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, labeled Bryant "a little brother" after learning of his death.

"We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much," Jordan said in a statement. "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."

As the world learned of Bryant's death, some teams honored him during early afternoon NBA games. The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors each used their first possessions to purposely violate the 24-second shot clock as a tribute to Bryant, who wore No. 24 from 2007-2016, after switching over from the No. 8, which he wore since being drafted 13th overall by the Lakers in 1996.

"We all feel a deep sense of loss for what he meant to all of us in so many ways," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters following Sunday's contest. "So many millions of people loved him for so many different reasons. It's just a tragic thing; there are no words that can describe how everybody feels about it. We all think about the family and the process that they are going to be going through now. That's where all of our thoughts should be."

Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant
Ronald Martinez | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

The son of former NBA star Joe Bryant, Kobe's death comes days after his 14th anniversary of becoming the closest player to finish a game scoring near Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain's record of 100 points in a single game. Bryant scored 81 points back on Jan. 22, 2006, finishing the game 28-of-46 shooting from the field. In that same outing, Bryant also surpassed Wilt Chamberlain's 78-point game set back in December 1961.

For his career, Bryant, who retired in 2016, played 48,637 minutes (the eighth-most in NBA history) and appeared in 1,346 games (ranking him at 15th) in a career most certainly headed for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

But as much as Bryant meant to the NBA, his legacy is also cemented and well respected in Lower Merion, a small suburb outside of Philadelphia where he attended high school.

Bryant dominated as a high school basketball player, finishing his career as the Aces' all-time leading scorer with 2,883 points. Following his playing days in the area known as the Main Line, the school named its gymnasium after Bryant in December 2010.

"That's obviously where playing in the NBA kind of became a realistic goal," Bryant told ESPN in 2010. "I put a lot of work in, a lot of hours in that gym."

Bryant's high school coach Gregg Downer, who coached him from 1992 to 1996, could not be reached for comment but issued a quote that said: "Aces Nation has lost its heartbeat."

Bryant also led the Aces to a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Class AAAA State Championship in 1996.

"The entire Lower Merion School District community sends its deepest condolences to Mr. Bryant's family," the Lower Merion School District said in a statement. "Our basketball teams will no doubt pay tribute to Mr. Bryant as this season continues, but at this time, as a District, we will concentrate on supporting those in our community – including Coach Downer and English teacher Jeanne Mastriano – whom Mr. Bryant credited for sparking his love of writing."

Asked what Bryant meant to him growing up playing basketball, current Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum said, "Outside of my brother and father, Kobe was it. Loved his work ethic, his story, his approach to the game, and his tenacity."

Billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, issued a statement praising the man who called himself the "Black Mamba," saying Bryant was an "ambassador for our game, a decorated legend and a global icon." Cuban went on to add the team will officially retire the No. 24 in honor of Bryant.

"He was the closest player ever to mimic MJ," NBA agent Cervando Tejeda of Athlete Sports Management told CNBC. "He kept the drive and toughness in the game; the belief that if you work hard, success will come. He meant a lot to the world. Today is a sad day; today should forever be named 'Mamba Day.'"