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Kobe Bryant, daughter Gigi involved in fatal helicopter crash

Kobe Bryant last visited the Philippines in 2016 during a promotional tour with Nike. Mike Romero (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—The sporting world was stunned early Monday (Philippine Time) when news broke out that NBA legend Kobe Bryant was among nine passengers who passed away when a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed within the vicinity of Calabasas, California. He was 41 years old.

Entertainment website TMZ first reported that the former 20-year superstar, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships, was heading to the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks from the John Wayne Airport in Orange County to hold practice.

But apparently due to the thick fog within the Calabasas hillside, the helicopter, which is actually owned by Bryant, hit the elevated area and exploded.

It was later reported that Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gigi, who was carving a basketball career of her own, was also in the ill fated helicopter.

Gigi Bryant's teammate, Alyssa Altobelli, was also in the said helicopter along with her parents, Orange County College baseball team coach John and wife Keri.

Sheriff stays silent

Asked for a confirmation on who were inside the helicopter when the crash happened, however, the Los Angeles County sheriff remained mum.

"There was a wide speculation who their identities are. However, it is entirely inappropriate right now to identify by name until the coroner has made the identification and made notifications to their next of kin," Alex Villanueva explained his decision of declining to confirm if Kobe and Gigi Bryant were indeed there in a press conference.

The sheriff added, "It will be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one was perished and you heard about it in TMZ. That is wholly inappropriate, so we're not going there.

However, Daryl Osby, the Los Angeles County fire chief, confirmed, "Unfortunately, all [of the passengers] on board were determined to have been perished."

Villanueva continued, "We'll be making those notifications when we have those information. When all the next of kin have been notified, then we can release the information publicly."

A legend in the game

Drafted 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, Kobe Bryant played for the Lakers throughout his entire career.

His memorable performances include an 81-point game against Toronto in 2006, the second highest scoring game for a player in league history and numerous clutch moments.

[Related Story: Some memorable Kobe moments]

Bryant finished his career with 33,643 total regular season points, which was then third in the NBA all time scoring list.

On Sunday (Philippine Time), however, LeBron James passed Bryant for third place in the said scoring list

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno