On Sunday, January 26th, the world received the shocking and tragic news that Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in the mountainous terrain of Calabasas, California amid foggy conditions. Making things worse, Bryant was accompanied by eight other passengers—one of them being his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Everyone on board perished in the crash. 

Bryant was reportedly en route to the charitable foundation he helped launch, the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, when the tragedy occurred. A loving dad invested in his daughter’s interest in sports, he was taking Gianna to basketball practice. The academy has a tournament called The Mamba Cup which features travel teams of boys and girls ranging from fourth to eighth grade. It’s said he often traveled by private helicopter.

The 41-year-old purple and gold legend was not only one of basketball’s greatest players winning five NBA championships as well as gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but following his 20-year career with the Lakers, he went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his film Dear Basketball in 2018. 

Initially, Bryant penned the poem, “Dear Basketball,” for The Players’ Tribune in 2015 announcing his retirement from his career in the sport.

In part, Kobe wrote:

“Dear Basketball …

I ran up and down every court

After every loose ball for you.

You asked for my hustle

I gave you my heart

Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt

Not because challenge called me

But because YOU called me.

I did everything for YOU

Because that’s what you do

When someone makes you feel as

Alive as you’ve made me feel.”

From there, Disney animator Glen Keane, famous for his work in The Little Mermaid and Tangled, directed and animated Kobe’s poem. Bryant narrated the short, and John Williams did the music. 

When news came that the film had received an Oscar nod, Bryant tweeted, “What?? This is beyond the realm of imagination. It means so much that the @TheAcademy deemed #DearBasketball worthy of contention,” and “Thanks to the genius of @GlenKeanePrd & John Williams for taking my poem to this level. It’s an honor to be on this team. #OscarNoms.”

Following his Oscar win, Bryant told reporters, “I feel better than winning a championship, to be honest with you. I swear I do.” Indeed, the Philadelphia native knew he wanted to write and tell stories after retiring from basketball. “I wake up in the morning, I can’t wait to write, I can’t wait to get to the studio,” he shared. His inspiration to turn his poem into a short film came from his daughter, Gianna, who told him, “Dad, you always tell us to go after our dreams, so man up.”

Michael Jordan paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant after news of his and Gianna’s death. “I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing,” the legendary basketball player said in a statement. “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe—he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss the conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply—and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. [Jordan’s wife] Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization, and basketball fans around the world.” 

Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife Vanessa and the couple’s three daughters: Natalia, 17; Bianca, 3; and Capri who was born last June.