Israelis sports fans joined in an outpouring of grief over the helicopter crash Sunday that took the life of former basketball great Kobe Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a remote, steep hillside in Southern California.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was travelling to Washington, tweeted that Bryant was “one of the greatest basketball players in history,” and called his death “a sad day for all sports fans.”
Foreign Minister Israel Katz also mourned him and sent condolences from Israel “to his family and the NBA family.”
Israeli NBA star Omri Casspi simply tweeted “speechless.”
— Maccabi Tel Aviv BC (@MaccabitlvBC) January 26, 2020
In Tel Aviv, news of Bryant’s death came through during a game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and crosstown rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Fans from both teams stood and applauded in tribute to Bryant as the Maccabi announcer said the club was “shocked and devastated.”
Fans then stood and repeatedly chanted his name.
Former NBA journeyman Amar’e Stoudemire, who now plays in Tel Aviv and heard about the news at the game and could not hold back his tears.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” said Stoudemire wiping away tears with a towel as he was interviewed court-side.
“I’m shocked, bro. I don’t know what to say. I don’t even want to believe it.”
NBA players, coaches, entertainers and politicians took to social media and other outlets Sunday to express their shock and sadness.
Amar'e Stoudemire found out about Kobe Bryant during a game in Israel.pic.twitter.com/ftzm6kiZ8s
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) January 26, 2020
Pau Gasol, a former teammate of Bryant’s with the Lakers, tweeted, “Beyond devastated… my big brother… I can’t, I just can’t believe it.”
Philadelphia 76ers center Joe Embiid said that he started playing basketball after watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals.
“I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life,” Embiid wrote on Twitter. “I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I’m so FREAKING SAD right now!!!!”
Bryant was 41.
Former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tweeted 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
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 26, 2020
And former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen added: “I’m stunned. Words can’t even come close to describing it. Just an incredibly sad and tragic day.”
The Spurs and the Raptors honored Bryant at the start of their game Sunday.
They did not participate in the tip off to start the game. Instead, Fred VanVleet took the ball and held onto it for a 24-second shot clock violation, to honor Bryant’s former number he wore with the Lakers. Dejounte Murry then did the same thing for the Spurs. The crowd was chanting “Kobe! Kobe!” as this was going on. Lonnie Walker IV is visibly upset. He was crying and wiping away tears during pre-game as the Spurs honored Kobe with a moment of silence.
Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim previously worked with Bryant with Team USA. Bryant won two gold medals for the United States in 2008 and 2012.
“He was not only one of the greatest basketball players ever, he was also the hardest working player I’ve ever been around,” Boeheim tweeted. “I was so fortunate to have known him and coached him with Team USA. Our thoughts and our prayers are with his wife, Vanessa, and the Bryant family.”
Bryant’s death reverberated beyond sports. In 2018, he won an Academy Award in the animated short film category.
Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom issued a statement regarding about Bryant that read:
“We mourn the tragic and untimely death of a California icon and basketball legend, Kobe Bryant. In his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made history with raw talent and unparalleled dedication that raised the bar and paved the way for a newer generation of players.”
Rick Ross called it “a huge loss for the game,” while fellow rapper Wyclef Jean tweeted that Bryant was a “true gladiator of life.”
Actress Reese Witherspoon tweeted: “Just devastated to hear about #KobeBryant. An extraordinary athlete, and a genuinely kind, wonderful man. Sending love, prayers & compassion to his family. To his entire @NBA family as well.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson weighed in, too.
“As I tweet through my tears, I am so hurt,” Jackson tweeted. “I cannot stop crying. Kobe was instrumental to so many people. There is a hole in the basketball world and there will be for a long time. Rest in heavenly peace.”