‘The city is bleeding’: Tributes flow for basketball legend Kobe Bryant and teen daughter

People gather around a makeshift memorial for former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant after learning of his death at LA Live plaza in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles.

People gather around a makeshift memorial for former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant after learning of his death at LA Live plaza in front of Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Getty

Distraught athletes, fans, politicians and celebrities have paid emotional tributes to NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant in the hours after he and his 13-year-old daughter were killed in a helicopter crash.

Former Lakers president Magic Johnson couldn’t stop “crying all morning” after news broke that the legendary Lakers player was one of nine people on board a private helicopter which went down at about 10am on Sunday (local time), sparking a fire.

“It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players,” Johnson said.

The helicopter was travelling to Thousand Oaks for his daughter Gianna’s basketball practice when it crashed, killing all those on board.

His death has sent shockwaves through the basketball community which has been left devastated by his sudden and tragic death.

Regarded as one of the best NBA players of all time, Bryant, 41, who retired in 2016, was remembered by actress and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg as a “hero” to her family.

“RIP Kobe, hero to many including my grandson, extraordinary athlete and always kind to me and my family,” she tweeted.

Fans across Los Angeles flocked to the Staples Centre, where Bryant played for majority of his NBA career, to mourn the 41-year-old’s death.

Former security worker at the arena, Edgar Ruiz, 24, heard of Bryant’s death when he was driving and became so upset he had to pull over.

“The city is bleeding right now,” he told The Guardian.

Mr Ruiz noted how nice Bryant was to everyone he came across at Staples, including janitors, baristas and other security workers like himself.

“He would say ‘Hi’ to everyone. He really was a person for the people,” Mr Ruiz said.

Flowers and tributes are left at a makeshift memorial for former NBA player Kobe Bryant outside. Photo: Getty

“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

“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.”

Tributes also poured in for Gianna, also known as a Gigi, who dreamed of playing in the women’s NBA.

Outside Staples Center, fans chanted: “Gigi! Gigi!” in her honour and placed flowers on the ground spelling out her and her father’s names.

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards took place inside the arena, with singer Alicia Keys leading a heartfelt tribute to the retried NBA star and his daughter.

“We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now … We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this,” she said.

“I would like to ask everybody to take a moment and just hold them inside of you … and share our strength and our support with their families.”

The news of his death was withheld from longtime friend Tiger Woods until he finished playing the final round at the US PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open.

The news broke while Woods was in the early part of his round, and though it spread around Torrey Pines quickly, caddie Joe LaCava refrained from telling his boss until they were walking from the 18th green to the scorers’ room.

Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant in 1997 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Photo: Getty

“Joey realised that I was locked into trying to (win and) didn’t want to distract me with this type of news,” an emotional Woods told reporters minutes later.

“I didn’t really understand why people in the gallery were saying ‘Do it for Mamba’ but now I understand.”

‘Black Mamba’ was Bryant’s nickname.

“He came in the league and I turned pro right around the same time and we had our 20-year run together,” said 15-times major champion Woods.

He said that from a playing aspect he would most remember Bryant’s fire on the court.

“He burned so competitively hot.

“He brought it each and every night, on both ends of the floor. Not many guys can say that. He’d lock up on D (defense),” Woods said.

Former US president Barack Obama said Bryant was “just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act”.

Kobe Bryant presents a jersey to then-President Barack Obama during an event with the National Basketball Association 2009 champions. Photo: Getty

“To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents,” he tweeted.

Kobe inspired Australia’s young NBA stars

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dante Exum practised alongside Bryant in early 2014 while preparing for the NBA Draft on courts south of Los Angeles.

Exum soaked up every drop of advice Bryant offered.

Dante Exum handles the ball against the Chicago Bulls the day before Bryant’s death. Photo: Getty

“What he basically said to me was, ‘There’s going to be a lot of off-court distractions and how you handle those and focus on basketball is how long you’ll stay in the league’,” Exum told AAP back in 2014.

“He said to have fun at some point because I’m still young but just know what your goals are and why you are here.”

Bryant won five NBA championships with the Lakers, the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008 and was named in the NBA All-Star team 18 times.

He also won Olympic gold medals with the United States in 2008 and 2012.

“The world lost a legend today,” Melbourne-born Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons wrote on Twitter.

Bryant kept a keen interest in Exum and Simmons.

When Exum tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing for Australian in Europe in 2015 Bryant offered encouragement.

“Dante is a fantastic young player,” he said. “I think he’ll just be fine.”

When Simmons emerged as the likely number one pick of the 2016 NBA Draft there was a strong chance the Lakers could end up with the Australian prodigy.

In true blunt Bryant style he said Simmons would have to earn them and warned Laker fans expected championships and Simmons would have to deliver them.

“If you don’t win a championship the season is a failure,” Bryant said.

“If you have that attitude this city will absolutely love you and you’ll get this team back to playing and winning at a level it is accustomed to.”

Tributes keep flowing in

-with AAP/agencies

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