Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion who spent all 20 years of his legendary career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday in a helicopter crash at age 41. The news came as a shock to many poker players who followed his brilliant career.
Bryant played for the Lakers from 1996 until retiring from basketball in 2016. He left the game as the third all-time leading scorer with 33,643 points, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. On Saturday, hours before Kobe passed away, LeBron James, who now plays for the Lakers, moved into third place. The retired superstar gave props to LeBron on Twitter last night, his final tweet.
“Continuing to move the game forward KingJames. Much respect my brother. #33644,” Bryant tweeted.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
According to reports, Kobe was among five passengers, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were killed. Early reports indicate the victims were flying over the city of Calabassas, California, a town northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The aircraft went down in a remote field around 10:00 am Sunday morning. Details of what caused the crash are unknown at this time.
The “Black Mamba” is considered one of the greatest basketball players in history, right up there with Michael Jordan, LeBron, and another former Lakers guard, Magic Johnson. He finished his career averaging 25 points per game, 4.7 assists, and won the 2007-2008 Most Valuable Player award. Bryant was so talented that NBA fans will still be marveling at his greatness 30 years from now.
Bryant Had Ties to Poker
Long-time Lakers owner Jerry Buss was an avid poker player. You may recall he appeared on numerous televised poker shows such as High Stakes Poker during the poker boom era. He was a regular in the high-stakes cash games in Southern California for years. When Dr. Buss passed away in 2013, the WSOP extended an invitation to Kobe Bryant to play in his honor that summer.
— WSOP – World Series of Poker (@WSOP) June 10, 2013
An injury forced Kobe to decline the offer, but he still paid tribute to his friend and former owner who loved the game of poker. Instead of competing at the WSOP, he announced “shuffle up and deal” at the start of Event #23, $2,500 Seven Card Stud, a game Dr. Buss loved.
Poker Community Saddened By Untimely Death
Bryant was one of the most iconic American sports figures in history. Many poker players are also avid sports fans, and made their feelings known on Twitter after discovering the tragic news.
Mike Matusow, a hardcore Los Angeles Lakers fan who idolized Bryant, posted a picture of a jersey he clearly cherishes.
— Mike Matusow (@themouthmatusow) January 26, 2020
Doyle Brunson never played a game in the NBA, but he came close and, if not for an injury, he may have been a Laker, just like Kobe. “Texas Dolly” posted shortly after news broke of the NBA legend’s untimely passing.
There are no guarantees. RIP Kobe
— Doyle Brunson (@TexDolly) January 26, 2020
Ryan Riess has something in common with Kobe Bryant: both are world champions. The 2013 WSOP Main Event winner appeared to be in shock over the former Laker’s death.
Omg I’m speechless. RIP Kobe 😢
— Ryan Riess (@RyanRiess1) January 26, 2020
Kobe Bryant was far from a perfect person, but his passing is still tragic. In 2003, he was accused of rape at a hotel in Colorado. Charges were eventually dropped due to his alleged victim refusing to testify, but his legacy was tarnished. He even lost endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella as a result of the allegations.
Kobe never straight up admitted to the crime, but he gave a heartfelt apology for his actions.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said in a 2004 public statement. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
His wife, Vanessa, stuck by his side throughout. The couple went through a rocky, at times, 20-year marriage that included a brief divorce in 2011. They reconciled and remained together until the end. They had four children together, including daughter Gianna.
Guilty or not, the loss of life is tragic. And not just Kobe Bryant. The other victims will also be missed. Many basketball fans have forgiven or forgotten about Bryant’s incident in Colorado. Instead, he’ll be more remembered for his contributions to the game of basketball. And that’s probably a good thing.