Israeli basketball fans chanted Kobe Bryant’s name during a Maccabi Tel Aviv home game on Sunday night, January 26, following the news that the NBA legend had died hours earlier in a helicopter crash in southern California.
Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished when their Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed in dense fog in Calabasas, California, around 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, en route to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California.
While the jumbotron featured a photo of the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers player, the announcer at Menora Mivtachim Arena called Bryant’s passing a tragedy and asked the crowd to stand in his honor.
Fans rose to their feet, as they applauded and chanted repeatedly in unison: “Kobe Bryant.”
Former New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire, who made his debut in the game as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s newest player, broke into tears when he learned of Bryant’s death.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” Stoudemire, 37, told a reporter. “I’m shocked, bro. I don’t know what to say. I have no idea what to even think. I don’t know. Feels unreal. I don’t even want to believe it. It’s like a dagger to my heart right now.”
Stoudemire played against Bryant numerous times during his 15-year NBA career.
Stoudemire, who said he was close to Bryant’s family, praised the late athlete in a post-game interview in the locker room, stating, “This is a big loss for myself and my family. My family’s crying right now. On the phone they called me, everyone was crying. It’s definitely a hurtful feeling.”
Ex-NBA player Omri Casspi—also now a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv—said of Bryant’s death, “It’s an unparalleled tragedy; I have no words to describe what I feel right now.”
He added, “Kobe was one of the greatest athletes in the world, a recognizable figure. He symbolized all the beauty sports has to offer; the hard work and the desire to win pushed him beyond all limits…He was an exceptional winner. To think about his wife in this unimaginable situation, what a disaster.”
NBA players, current and former, across the league expressed their own feelings about the tragedy.
Shaquille O’Neal, a teammate of Kobe’s from 1996-2004, tweeted, “There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant.” Together, Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers to three straight NBA titles, in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Former Lakers player and GM Jerry West issued a statement on Kobe’s death: “I am so saddened for Kobe’s parents, Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, Kobe’s sisters and all of the NBA fans that hold Kobe in their hearts. This loss of Kobe, Gianna and everyone on board is beyond tragic and incomprehensible.”
Kobe Bryant was an inspiration to many, and his “Mamba mentality” changed the face of the NBA and influenced fans around the globe. “Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” he once told Amazon Book Review. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit...it’s grown into something athletes—and even non-athletes—embrace as a mindset.”
The Black Mamba, Kobe’s self-imposed nickname, was known for his inspirational quotes. Here are a few of his best: “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do”; “We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it”; “Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses”; “Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that Bryant was “one of the greatest basketball players in history,” and called his death “a sad day for all sports fans in the world.”
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz tweeted in a message referring to Bryant, “Thank you for the long years of out-of-this-world basketball. Basketball fans, with I among them, will never forget you.”
In Kobe’s own words, from his farewell speech after his final NBA game on April 13, 2016: “What can I say? Mamba out.”
By The Algemeiner and combined sources