On the morning of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service, news broke that his widow has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the company that owned the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter on which the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a Calabasas, California, hillside crash last month.
Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers are seeking unspecified damages from Island Express, arguing that fog conditions on Jan. 26 should have prevented the company from putting lives at unnecessary risk, according to TMZ. The lawsuit also alleges that Kobe Bryant’s longtime pilot, Ara George Zobayan, who died in the crash, was previously disciplined for violating visual flight rules in 2015.
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The lawsuit also says the pilot was going 180 miles per hour in the heavy fog in a steep decline.
The lawsuit claims the pilot failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff, failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight, failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy condition, failed to maintain control of the helicopter and failed to avoid “natural obstacles” in the flight path.
The lawsuit also alleges that the helicopter was unsafe, per TMZ. The New York Times reported earlier this month that while Zobayan was certified to use the helicopter’s sophisticated navigation system, Island Express was not, calling into question the legality of flying in the foggy condition. National Transportation Safety Board officials also announced that the helicopter was not equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System that could have alerted Zobayan prior to the crash.
“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” Monday’s lawsuit read, according to L.A. Times reporter Nathan Fenno.
More than 20,000 ticketed fans arrived at Staples Center Monday morning out of tens of thousands who applied for tickets to the ceremony honoring Kobe and Gianna’s memory, according to ESPN.
Fans who attended received a picture book featuring the Bryant family.
NBA players, greats in attendance
Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Fox, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving and A.C. Green are among the current and former NBA players sighted at the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Boston Celtics players who were in town for Sunday’s game against the Lakers stayed for the memorial. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis shared images of their tickets on social media.
“She had rhythm and swag ever since she was a baby,” Vanessa said.
She described a confident, driven and talented teenager who spoke Mandarin and Spanish as an eighth-grader and gave pointers to the boy’s basketball team at her school “like the triangle offense.”“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA,” Vanessa said to applause. “She would have made a huge difference in women’s basketball.”
“I want my daughters to remember the amazing person, husband and father he was — the kind of man who wanted to teach future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes,” Vanessa said.
She closed with a message for Kobe.
‘God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together.
“Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”
Women’s basketball greats honor Kobe, Gianna
WNBA and UConn great Diana Taurasi and reigning John Wooden Award winner and Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu paid tribute to both Kobe and Gianna.
“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “Gigi already had goals to play for UConn. That in itself showed her fearless mentality.”
Ionescu spoke of modeling her approach to the game after Bryant’s.
“Growing up I only knew one way to play the game of basketball,” Ionescu said. “Fierce, with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I loved the work even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.”
UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma then recounted speaking with Kobe about coaching Gigi’s youth basketball team and watching her play.
“Gianna passed it when she was open,” Auriemma said to laughs. “I thought ‘she’s not listening to her father.’”
Pelinka said that he was in church that Sunday morning when Kobe reached out to ask for help securing an internship for Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John and Keri Altobelli, who died in the crash along with their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was one of Gianna’s basketball teammates.
“I grabbed my phone and text Kobe back that I had seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted. It was now just past 9:30. Kobe text back explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl’s character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I text Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help get that done. A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven. “Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter… Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.”
He then recounted a time that Kobe challenged his son’s 12-year-old boy’s All-Star basketball team to a game against Gianna’s girl’s team.
“Our boys got smashed,” Pelinka said while admiring the precision of Gianna’s team under Kobe’s guidance.
Alicia Keys’ ‘Moonlight Sonata’ tribute
Kobe’s agent and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka shared a story about Bryant learning to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata” on piano by ear for Vanessa.
“By the end of the week, he had the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me without a mistake,” Pelinka said. “In my heart, I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s grandest feats for his deepest loves.”
Alicia Keys then took the stage to to play “Moonlight Sonata” accompanied by a string quartet.
MJ: ‘I’ll have to look at another crying meme’
Michael Jordan was the player Kobe’s game was most frequently compared to. Along with playing the same shooting guard position, the two shared the same intense competitive streaks and championship desire.
Jordan spoke about his relationship with Kobe as Kobe came up in the NBA.
“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor. Maybe it surprises people that Kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends. … He was like a little brother.”
Jordan said that Bryant would call him to ask for advice on basketball, business and “the triangle offense.”
“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “But then it turned into certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I can be.”
Jordan, in tears, found room for a joke at his own expense while honoring Kobe.
“Now he’s got me. I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next … I told my wife I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years.”
Shaq gets big laughs with Kobe story
Shaquille O’Neal provided perspective on Kobe like only he could, sharing a story about his early days playing with him en route to three NBA championships together.
“The day Kobe gained my respect, the guys were complaining, said ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” O’Neal said. “I said ‘I’ll talk to him.’
“I said ‘Kobe. There’s no I in team.’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an M-E in there mother f—er.’ I went back and told Rick [Fox] and Big Shot Bob [Horry], ‘just get the rebound. He’s not passing.’”
Christina Aguilera then sang a rendition of “Ave Maria” before the ceremony closed with Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film “Dear Basketball.”
In her first public comments since the death of husband Kobe and daughter Gianna on Sunday, Vanessa Bryant thanked the millions of fans who have shown support during what she called a “horrific” time.
She also announced the formation of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash.
“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” Bryant wrote in an Instagram post accompanied by a picture of the entire family. “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
Kobe and Gianna, 13, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday. They were among nine victims in the crash, which remains under investigation.
Kobe and Vanessa married in 2001, and they had four daughters together. Their oldest, Natalia, is 17, and their youngest, Capri, is 7 months old. They also have a 3-year-old, Bianka.
“I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them,” Bryant said as part of the post. “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”
A brush fire caused by the crash prevented first responders from immediately getting to the site
Bryant will be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time, as his resume pretty much speaks for itself. His accolades include:
Spent 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Lakers
Fourth-leading scorer in NBA history (33,643 points)
Five-time NBA champion, twice named Finals MVP
11-time All-NBA First Team
Nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team
Two-time Olympic gold medalist
Youngest player in NBA history at the time of his debut in 1996
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva: “We have a manifest that indicates there was nine people onboard the aircraft. The pilot plus eight individuals. There is wide speculation as who the identities are. However, it would be entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identification through their very deliberate process and they’ve made the notifications to the next of kin. It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one has perished and you learn about it from TMZ. That is just wholly inappropriate so we’re not going to be going there. We’re going to wait until the coroner does their job and we’re assisting the families of those who believe they’ve been impacted and it’s a tough process.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said there were nine people on the aircraft total — a pilot and eight passengers. He would not confirm who died until all the next-of-kin are notified, he said.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby: “The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s initial response was 15 pieces of apparatus and 56 personnel.”
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby: “At 9:47 a.m. the Los Angeles County Fire Department received a 911 call of a potential helicopter down and a brush fire…Upon arrival, our firefighters discovered approximately a quarter-acre brush fire that resulted from a crash on the hillside.”
This one hurt’: NBA stars and public figures grieve after Kobe Bryant’s death
A call for a downed helicopter in Calabasas, California, went out at 10:01 a.m. local time, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The city of Calabasas later confirmed that Bryant and his daughter Gianna, 13, were among the passengers who died in the crash.
Authorities believe nine bodies were found at the scene.
Current and former NBA players shared their disbelief on social media.
Bryant’s former Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal posted to Instagram to say he was sick over the news.
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie. I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board,” O’Neal wrote.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a former Laker, tweeted a video saying it was hard for him to put his feelings into words.
“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,” Abdul-Jabbar’s tweet read.
According to video from NBC, James had just landed in Los Angeles with his teammates following a game in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia, where James passed Bryant with 33,655 points to become the third highest-scorer in NBA history.
Former Heat star Dwyane Wade tweeted, “Nooooooooooo God please No!”
Bryant’s words, according to Green: Ninety-eight percent of people are okay with mediocrity or less. Guys like Bryant and Green, though, they’re out for something different—greatness. So, Green remembers Kobe saying, “as long as you wait for them to understand you, you’re f–ked.”
“It was the best s–t I ever heard,” Green says. “Because it gave me an understanding of why people don’t understand me. I’m so crazy competitive. I put my competitiveness up there with anyone. How could someone understand that? It’s a different level.”
NBA Players, Teams, and More Mourn and Pay Tribute to Kobe Bryant During Sunday’s Games
Column: How can Kobe Bryant be gone? His legend wasn’t supposed to end this way
I’m screaming right now, cursing into the sky, crying into my keyboard, and I don’t care who knows it.
Kobe Bryant is gone, and those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write for this newspaper, and I still don’t believe them as I’m writing them. I’m still crying, and go ahead, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed, cry with me, weep and wail and shout into the streets, fill a suddenly empty Los Angeles with your pain.
No. No. No, damn it, no!
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas and how does that happen? Kobe is stronger than any helicopter. He didn’t even need a helicopter. For 20 years he flew into greatness while carrying a breathless city with him.
This can’t be true.
Kobe does not die. Not now. Kobe lives into his golden years, lives long enough to see his statues erected outside Staples Center and his jerseys inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He lives long enough to sit courtside at Staples when he’s stooped and gray, keeping alive the memories of two decades of greatness with a wink, maybe even fooling everyone one last time by retiring in a community next to Shaq.
How can Mamba be dead? Mambas don’t die. Why this, why now, why him, why them? Kobe and Gianna leave behind an incredibly strong wife and mother, Vanessa, and daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, who was born last summer. The horror of this is unspeakable. The tragedy of this is immeasurable.
Go ahead and keep crying, you won’t be alone. A huge hole has been cut out of Los Angeles’ heart, and the wound is breathtaking.
Kobe was your childhood hero. He was your adult icon. For 20 years he was on posters in your bedroom, on the television in your living room, in the lunch talk in your school cafeteria, in the smack talk at your office water cooler, and ultimately riding on a truck down Figueroa Street while you cheered and bragged and bathed in his greatness.
You watched him grow up, and this city’s relentless approach to sports grew with him, and soon, even with all of his off-court failings, many people felt they carried a little piece of him.
On your best days, the days you landed a big account or aced a big test or just survived a battle with traffic, you felt like Kobe. You were Kobe. And in the end, as he retired into a life of movies and books and coaching Gianna’s basketball team, he was us.
For me, he not only dominated my professional life, he consumed it. He arrived in Los Angeles two months before I began writing this column. We used to joke that we started our journeys together. But then he would pat me on the back and shake his head at that notion because, well, he always followed his own path.
He was the one Laker who never had an entourage, and many nights after games we would chat as I walked with him to his car. Except when he would get mad at me for what he considered unfair criticism, and then we wouldn’t talk for weeks, because when he was playing, he was that rare fighter who never dropped his fists.
I covered his first game. I covered his last game. I wrote about everything in between, the titles and the sexual assault charges and the trade demands and the titles again and then finally that 60-point career-ending game against Utah.
I screamed from press row that night, just as I’m screaming now, still shaking, still not believing.
Kobe Bryant is gone.
We just talked last week.
I emailed Kobe with a request to speak to him about being passed on the all-time scoring list by LeBron James.
He emailed me back immediately. He always did.
He cleared his calendar and made time to chat on the phone because, as he always said, “You’ve been there for everything with me.”
But then, in our 20-minute conversation, he showed a side of Kobe that I had not seen before.
The edge was gone. The arms were open. He urged acceptance of LeBron. He preached calm for Lakers fans. He said greatness wasn’t worth anything if you couldn’t share it.
After about five minutes the message of this call was clear, the steely-eyed Mamba was purposely moving into a role of a wise, embracing and grateful leader of a community that had shown him so much patience and love.
“It’s crazy, watching this city and growing with it,” he said before hanging up. “I feel such an appreciation, I can never pay the city back for what it’s given me.”
And now he’s gone. Kobe is gone. Kobe is gone.
I’ll say it 81 times and it still won’t make any sense.
Kobe Bryant is gone and, so, too, is a little bit of all of us.