ATLANTA — Atlanta is mourning Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of nine people Sunday morning. His 13-year-old daughter was also among the victims.
“It is with our heaviest hearts that we play this game tonight,” team owner Jami Gertz said. “Our NBA family has lost one of its brightest lights today. Kobe Bryant was a giant of this game.”
The team released statements on Instagram and Twitter on Sunday night:
“Today our NBA family lost one of its modern-day leaders and a champion who inspired so many of this generation’s current players. His insatiable drive, legendary competitive spirit and dedication to the game will forever be remembered and live on," officials said.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young had an emotional reaction to the news, hugging his mom after warmup ahead of Sunday’s game.
Basketball Hall of Famer and Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins said it’s hard to put into words what Bryant meant to the game of basketball and his family. Wilkins said he and Bryant were good friends.
“I loved Kobe as a talent, as a person," Wilkins said. "He brought it every night. No excuses. And you just don’t have guys like that anymore.”
The broadcaster told Seiden he was in disbelief when his son called to tell him the news.
Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce got emotional at the Hawks pregame press conference Sunday afternoon.
“We lost a leader,” Pierce said. “Everyone is shaken up.”
Pierce also told reporters an emotional story about a family member whom he lost in a helicopter crash.
“Forgive me for being emotional,” Pierce said. “You guys don’t know this. In ’98, I lost my cousin. He was a pilot in the Navy stationed in San Diego, Coronado. He was in a helicopter crash. To this day, I have a hard time looking at helicopters.”
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin issued a statement on Twitter:
Koonan said this was the biggest game of the year and that Bryant was the reason it was sold out.
“I just saw the numbers, and it’s by far the biggest game of the year,” Koonan said.
Before the Hawks game Sunday night, devastated basketball fans gathered outside State Farm Arena, many wearing Bryant’s yellow No. 8 jersey.
Bryant is the only player in NBA history to have two numbers retired by the same team.
Seiden talked to fans who said they couldn’t believe it when they heard the news.
“He’s my favorite player of all time. I loved how hardworking he was. He just was amazing," a young fan said.
“It is a true shock to all of us," another fan told Seiden. "I remember him getting drafted, and he had a tremendous career and a shame to see him go so soon.”
Inside the arena, fans paused for a moment of silence followed by a chant of “Kobe! Kobe!”
At nearby Hudson Grill, fans in Bryant’s jersey gathered to remember him.
“Everything he did, you now, I tried to emulate,” one fan said. “And this guy was by far the best thing I’ve ever seen in a jersey.”
Bryant played his final game in Atlanta on Dec. 4, 2015. He had 15 points and walked off to an ovation from Hawks fans.
Officials said Bryant’s helicopter took off from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California and was headed to Bryant’s basketball training complex, the Mamba Sports Academy. Bryant and his daughter were reportedly going to one of her basketball games.
The chopper crashed about 20 miles away into a hillside in Calabasas. No one survived.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the crash.
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