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The Kobe Timeline: Remembering the fallen Lakers legend, from tragedy to triumph

Ben Rohrbach
·13 min read
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Jan. 26, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash. (Illustration by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
Jan. 26, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash. (Illustration by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

In the days before Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on a hillside outside the city of Los Angeles, the Lakers legend texted his wife plans for a romantic vacation. He agreed to help Dwight Howard at the 2020 dunk contest. He asserted his 13-year-old daughter Gianna could follow his footsteps to the NBA.

“I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now honestly,” Bryant told CNN on Jan. 22, 2020. “There are a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it. Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne. There are a lot of great players out there, so they could certainly keep up with them.”

It was a microcosm of the post-retirement life Bryant was leading. He was a dedicated husband and father. He was burying the hatchets he had taken to the NBA for 20 years and inspiring the generation that came after him. It all translated to the advancement of the women’s game and the trail his daughter was blazing.

Bryant spent his final afternoon alive courtside for Gianna’s doubleheader at Mamba Sports Academy, the athletic training facility he helped launch two years earlier in Thousand Oaks, California. Hours later, LeBron James — the superstar tasked with carrying his Lakers torch — passed Bryant on the all-time scoring list.

“He had zero flaws offensively. Zero,” James, who wrote “Mamba 4 Life” on his sneakers for the game, said of Bryant. “You backed off him, he could shoot the three. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot the midrange, the post, make free throws. That’s something I admired.”

That night, in a Twitter message that would be his last, Bryant paid homage to James.

“Continuing to move the game forward.” The following is a timeline of the nine months that followed, from the tragedy of Bryant’s death to the triumph of another Lakers championship won in his honor by James.

Part II: The Kobe Timeline, February-March 2020: Vanessa's emotional, moving eulogy at public memorial

Part III: The Kobe Timeline, April-October 2020: First-ballot Hall of Fame nod, birthday tributes and Lakers' 17th NBA title

Jan. 26, 2020

(All times Pacific)

7 a.m.: At Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California, Bryant stops by his chapel to pray for a quiet moment, blessing himself with holy water, according to his pastor, Father Steve Sallot.

8:19 a.m.: Bryant direct messages Shareef O’Neal, “You good fam?”

“Yeah!” O’Neal responds. “Just been getting this work in trying to figure out my next move.”

9:30 a.m.: Ara Zobayan, the pilot flying a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter carrying Kobe, Gianna and six other passengers from John Wayne Airport for another set of games at Mamba Sports Academy, contacts the control tower at Hollywood Burbank Airport. He had been circling the L.A. Zoo in intense fog at a low altitude.

Sitting beside his family in church, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka receives a text from Bryant. His former client and best friend wants to know if they can set up Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli’s eldest daughter, Alexis, with an internship for MLB super-agent Scott Boras.

“Kobe’s last human act was heroic,” Pelinka publicly reveals in the months that will follow. “He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future. Hasn’t Kobe done that for all of us?”

9:45 a.m. Traveling north into heavier fog, Zobayan turns south and rapidly ascends. The helicopter crashes into a Calabasas hillside at a speed of nearly 185 miles per hour.

11:24 a.m.: News of Bryant’s death breaks on TMZ.

12:35 p.m.: News breaks that Gianna Bryant was among the eight other passengers on board.

12:49 p.m.: President Donald Trump, since banned from Twitter, tweets, “That is terrible news!

1:12 p.m.: John Altobelli is the third passenger identified.

1:46 p.m.: Shaquille O’Neal publicly addresses Bryant’s death.

A slew of athletes follow suit in the hours and days ahead. Among them: Luka Doncic, Paul Pierce, Joel Embiid, Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Sue Bird, Arike Ogunbowale, Sabrina Ionescu, Tom Brady, Saquon Barkley, J.J. Watt, Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Mahomes, Megan Rapinoe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, Daniel Cormier and Naomi Osaka.

Paris Saint-German star Neymar dedicates a goal to Bryant in Lille, France.

1:56 p.m.: Former President Barack Obama tweets his condolences.

2 p.m.: Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving leaves Madison Square Garden in mourning.

“We have a player who was very close to Kobe,” then-Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him also. As an organization, we’re devastated. Our players are devastated.”

2:27 p.m.: Magic Johnson posts a series of tributes on Twitter.

2:40 p.m.: Officials confirm nine people were on board the helicopter, and there are no survivors.

2:45 p.m.: Jerry West, who traded for Bryant as Lakers GM in 1996, issues a statement.

“The news we’ve all received today is the most devastating news that anyone can imagine,” West says, via The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. “I am so saddened for Kobe’s parents, Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, Kobe’s sisters and all of the NBA fans that hold Kobe in their hearts. This loss of Kobe, Gianna, and everyone on board is beyond tragic and incomprehensible. I will love Kobe forever and always cherish the time that I spent with him. I watched him grow from an energetic kid into the man he became, making a difference in so many people’s [lives]. He has left the world a better place. Kobe’s legacy will live forever.”

3:16 p.m.: Trae Young switches his jersey to No. 8 in honor of Bryant.

3:49 p.m.: Michael Jordan, Bryant’s idol, issues a statement: “I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. 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 those 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. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”

3:42 p.m.: Mourners begin flocking to Lower Merion High School, Bryant’s alma mater.

3:56 p.m.: Video captures a tearful LeBron James departing the Lakers’ team plane.

4:13 p.m.: The Toronto Raptors win the tip and run out the 24-second shot clock in honor of Bryant.

The night’s remaining games followed suit, some of which also featured eight-second backcourt violations.

4:23 p.m.: A moment of silence is held for Bryant at the NFL’s Pro Bowl.

4:40 p.m.: The memorial outside Staples Center grows, a stunning visual representation of the unique bond Bryant forged with Los Angelenos and young NBA fans of the 2000s, including a number of rising stars in the NBA. As New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson said, “He was this generation’s Michael Jordan.

4:55 p.m.: Gregg Popovich is among the NBA’s voices to address Bryant’s death during a slate of games.

“All of us know what a great player he was, but he went beyond great playing. He was a competitor that goes unmatched and it’s what made him, as a player, so attractive to everyone,” he says. “That focus, that competitiveness, that will to win. More importantly, we all feel a deep sense of loss for what he meant to all of us in so many ways. And so many millions of people loved him for so many different reasons.”

4:56 p.m.: Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser is identified as a passenger.

5:22 p.m.: Phil Jackson issues a statement: “The crash was a tragedy for multiple families. My heart goes out to Vanessa and the families that lost loved ones. Kobe was a chosen one — special in many ways to many people. Our relationship as coach/player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil.”

5:41 p.m.: The Dallas Mavericks retire Bryant’s No. 24.

8:05 p.m.: Damian Lillard scores 50 points to bring his three-game total to 157, joining a list of players that only includes Bryant, Jordan and James Harden. “We’re losing the great Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant,” Lillard said. “His impact on the game, players, coaches, everybody individually is going to be missed. It can’t be replaced. There’s definitely going to be a hole in this game going forward that can’t be replaced.”

8:16 p.m.: Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men sing “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” in front of a national television audience, as The Grammys pay tribute to Bryant.

Jan. 27, 2020

All nine passengers are identified: Kobe Bryant, 41; Gianna Bryant, 13; John Altobelli, 56; Keri Altobelli, 46; Alyssa Altobelli, 13; Sarah Chester, 45; Payton Chester, 13; Christina Mauser, 38; and Ara Zobayan, 50.

• Boston Red Sox scouting director Paul Toboni creates a GoFundMe for the Altobelli family. John’s son, J.J. Altobelli, also Keri’s stepson and an older brother to Alyssa, works as a scout for Toboni. The fundraiser for funeral costs, sister Lexi Altobelli’s college tuition and the family’s financial security has raised $366,250.

• The NBA postpones a game between the Lakers and Clippers, as James breaks his silence on Instagram.

• Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul sits against the Dallas Mavericks in mourning of Bryant. He, too, shares his thoughts on Instagram.

• In their first game since the helicopter crash, the women’s basketball team at UConn, where Bryant said his daughter was “hellbent” on playing, places a No. 2 Huskies jersey on the bench in honor of Gianna.

• All nine bodies are recovered from what authorities call a “devastating accident” on the Calabasas hillside.

Jan. 28, 2020

• National Transportation Safety Board officials announce Bryant’s helicopter did not feature a terrain alert system that could have warned the pilot upon approaching the hillside in foggy conditions. NTSB records indicate the helicopter company had four prior crashes on its record, including a fatal crash in 2008.

• ESPN anchor Elle Duncan shares a story of her conversation with Bryant that included the phrase, “I’m a girl dad.” The hashtag #GirlDad becomes forever tied to Bryant’s legacy and inspires fathers worldwide.

Nike’s online store sells out of Bryant’s shoes and jerseys.

• The Lakers host a “healing” luncheon for players, coaches and team personnel. Among those who shared stories of Bryant was James. In the team’s first public news conference since Bryant’s death, Lakers coach Frank Vogel tells the gathered media, “We’ve become a family in a very short time. ... We understand the importance and opportunity we have this year, and this has just brought us closer together.”

• Joel Embiid wears No. 24 in honor of Bryant. A number of players who formerly wore Nos. 8 and 24 also change their numbers in tribute to Bryant, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Terrence Ross and Moe Harkless.

• Bryant’s favorite soccer team, AC Milan, pays video tribute to Bryant.

• In an emotional tribute on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” fellow Lakers greats Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal are brought to tears, as panelists publicly grapple with Bryant’s death and share their stories of his career.

“I don’t know if I can get over this,” West says. “I really don’t.”

“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while,” adds O’Neal. “It definitely changes me.”

Jan. 29, 2020

• Vanessa Bryant shares her first public statement on Instagram.

“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” she writes, in part. “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.”

Bryant’s widow launches the MambaOnThree Fund to benefit families of the other helicopter crash victims.

• As Clippers practice reopens, Kawhi Leonard confirms Zobayan also served as his personal pilot. “Flown with him a lot,” says Leonard, uncertain if he will continue traveling by helicopter. “Great guy, super nice.”

Jan. 30, 2020

• On the same day The New York Times reports the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter that crashed carrying nine passengers did not have Federal Aviation Administration clearance to fly in foggy conditions, Island Express Helicopters, the company that operated the helicopter, announces it has suspended all operations.

• The NBA announces changes to its All-Star Game format in honor of Bryant. The game will be played to a set score (like an Elam Ending) — the leading team’s score through three quarters, plus 24 points.

• Lakers owner Jeannie Buss shares emotional tribute to Bryant on Instagram.

Jan. 31, 2020

• Irving scores 54 points in his second game back from taking time off in the wake of Bryant’s death, pointing to the sky in honor of his fallen hero after a final fallaway jumper that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

• Carmelo Anthony, whose friendship with Bryant “was deeper than basketball,” still cannot play in grief.

• James revealed a “Mamba 4 Life” tattoo, a permanent tribute to his predecessor.

Part II: The Kobe Timeline, February-March 2020: Vanessa's emotional, moving eulogy at public memorial

Part III: The Kobe Timeline, April-October 2020: First-ballot Hall of Fame nod, birthday tributes and Lakers' 17th NBA title

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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