Kobe Bryant earned US$680 million in salary and endorsements during his two-decade career. It is the most ever for a team athlete during their playing career. Bryant had the highest salary in the NBA for the last six years.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on January 28, 2020

Tributes flowed from all walks of life for Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, who was among nine people killed when his helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.

Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianni; pilot Ara Zobayan, 50; John Altobelli, a baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, who played basketball alongside Gianni; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton; and Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach who worked at a private school in Orange County, California, were all named as crash victims.

No-one survived on board Bryant’s Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

Kobe Bryant and Gianna were heading to her basketball game at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, and Bryant coached her team. Fans paid their respects to the pair in a vigil outside the sports centre.

Kobe Bryant’s death stunned artists and performers backstage at the Grammy Awards held at the Staples Centre, the home of Bryant’s only club, Los Angeles Lakers, when news broke of his death.

“I genuinely thought it wasn’t real,” said pop star Billie Eilish, who won five Grammy awards for album of the year, record of the year, song of the year, best pop vocal album and best new artist. “I was in the green room …. and I was like, ‘Oh that has to be fake'”.

Eilish, from Los Angeles, added: “Everybody knew Kobe. Everybody. It’s genuinely unbelievable.

“I feel like anything I say is not enough for what’s going on.”

The Grammy Awards were dedicated to Kobe Bryant’s life. He was a five-time NBA champion and a double Olympic gold medallist.

“Tonight is for you Kobe,” declared pop star Lizzo, opening the Grammys with her stirring ballad ‘Cuz I Love You’.

Grammys host Alicia Keys then dedicated the show to Bryant’s memory, with an acapella version of It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye, accompanied by Boyz II Men.

Keys acknowledged the sombre atmosphere in her opening speech.

“Here we are together on music’s biggest night, celebrating our artists that do it best,” she said “but, to be honest with you, we were all feeling crazy sadness right now, because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero.

“And we’re literally standing here, heartbroken, in the house that Kobe Bryant built.

“Right now, Kobe and his family and all of those that have been tragically lost today are in our spirits, in our hearts, in our prayers, they’re in this building.

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

“I know how much Kobe loved music,” she added later, “so we got to make this a celebration in his honour.”

Later in the Grammy Awards show, Run-DMC held up one of Bryant’s number 24 vests in a rendition with Aerosmith of their hit song Walk This Way.

Bryant retired in 2016 as the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Bryant earned US$680 million in salary and endorsements during his two-decade career. It is the most ever for a team athlete during their playing career. Bryant had the highest salary in the NBA for the last six years.

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

“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.

“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.

“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.”

He had until his death endorsement contracts with Nike, Hublot and Panini and began being a business owner. In August 2013 Bryant and entrepreneur Jeff Stibel officially set up a US$100 million venture-capital fund, Bryant Stibel, to invest in technology, media and data companies. They had invested in 15 companies together since 2013 including sports media website The Players Tribune, legal services company Legal Zoom, mobile game designer Scopely and e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

His daughter Gianna was a prodigiously talented basketball player. With Kobe Bryant’s help as her personal coach, Gianna hoped to become a professional. She had rekindled his love for the sport. Bryant filed a trademark for his daughter Gianna’s nickname “Mambacita” on 30 December last year, according to documents first obtained by website TMZ.

Bryant said he saw Gianna, who wanted to play in the WNBA, as the heir to his legacy.

“The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans would come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me,” Bryant said, “and they’ll be like, ‘You’ve gotta have a boy. You gotta have somebody to carry on your tradition, the legacy.

“She’s like, ‘Oy, I got this,” Bryant said.

Bryant was poignantly remembered at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. World number one tennis player Rafael Nadal tweeted: “I woke up this morning with the horrible news of the tragic death of one of the greatest sportsmen in the world. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and other passengers. My condolences to his wife and families. I am in shock.”

Novak Djokovic tweeted “Bryant was a great mentor and friend to me. You and your daughter will live forever in our hearts. There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy. RIP my friend.”

Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, who has said he enjoys playing basketball more than tennis, wore an LA Lakers shirt with Bryant’s name and number on it as he warmed up and appeared on the edge of tears before his fourth round match with Nadal.

Kobe Bryant, Nick Kyrgios

Two-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka posted this letter to Bryant on Twitter.

Kobe Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.