Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among the nine victims who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26

By Gabrielle Chung
February 25, 2020 08:49 PM
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The Los Angeles Lakers — the team Kobe Bryant played for during his 20-year career — were in the middle of a flight from Philadelphia to L.A. on Jan. 26 when they learned of the NBA legend’s untimely passing. Now, players from the basketball team are opening up about the emotional plane ride home.

Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and more shared how they reacted to the tragic news in an EPSN article published on Monday, telling the sports outlet that they were on the way back from a 10-day, five-game excursion across the country when they found out that Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of the nine victims who died in an helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Davis, who said he “can’t sleep on planes,” recalled he was watching Avengers: Endgame on his iPad when he noticed a phone screen flash in a row next to him. While he initially didn’t think anything of the activity, he said he knew something was up when his teammates started waving their hands in his direction.

Los Angeles Lakers at Kobe Bryant’s tribute
| Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

“So I remove one of my headphones, and I look,” the 26-year-old remembered. “And Dwight tells me, ‘Man, Kobe died.’ And me thinking as invincible as Kobe Bryant is, I’m like, ‘Kobe who?’ Because I’m like, that’s not — it’s not Kobe Bryant.

“And he was like, ‘Kobe.’ And I was like, ‘Okay. Kobe who? I’m not sure who you’re talking about.’ And he was like, ‘Kobe Bryant.’ And at this time, ‘Bron [LeBron James] is still asleep. So I was like, ‘Wait, what? How? Like, I need details, like, tell me.’ And he was like, ‘Man, helicopter crash.'”

Davis said he then woke up James, 35, from his nap to tell him the news.

“And I just like, start shaking Bron, like, ‘Wake up! Wake up!'” Davis recalled.

“By this time, all the players have woken up,” the athlete continued. “Everybody’s trying to get to the internet to get on their phone and see what’s going on. ‘Is it true?’ Or, ‘What’s going on?'”

Anthony Davis and LeBron James
| Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Davis said James — like many others — didn’t want to believe the reports at first.

“I remember the first thing ‘Bron said to me was, ‘Man, y’all stop playin — like, stop playing with me,'” he shared. “And I’m trying to get on the internet. And Dwight, like, you can see him start crying. He was like, ‘It’s true.'”

The news hit Howard, 34, hard and the NBA star had to retreat to the nearest bathroom stall cry, according to ESPN.

“It was like a movie scene when it happened,” he remembered. “I was extremely hurt.”

“Everybody was crying,” Davis added. “It was just like something that we didn’t believe, something that was shocking to all of us. Because Kobe, he’s touched so many, you know — players on this team, staff members.”

LeBron James
| Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

James, who surpassed Bryant for No. 3 on the NBA scoring list the night before, then gathered teammates in the middle of the plane for a group prayer, ESPN reported.

“It was just off the top off my head, just off the cuff,” James said of the moment. “I think it was needed for us to come together and just give thanks to the man above.”

“Even though at times we question him and question why he do some of the things that he do, know that he’s never made a mistake,” James added. “And just hope that he has his hands on top of Vanessa [Bryant] and the kids at that time, and hope that he continues to watch over all of us. So, I don’t know, it wasn’t something I thought about. It was something that just kind of came to me, and I said my piece.”

Bryant and his daughter Gianna were on their way to a youth basketball game with parents and players from the Mamba Sports Academy girls’ team when their helicopter crashed amid foggy conditions. The two died alongside pilot Ara Zobayan, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, John Altobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa Altobelli.

Gianna and Kobe Bryant
| Credit: Allen Berezovsky/Getty

On Monday, a public memorial was held for Bryant and Gianna at the Staples Center, where Bryant’s widow Vanessa was joined by his surviving daughters — Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and 8-month-old Capri — as she bravely took the stage to eulogize her late husband and daughter.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together,” said Vanessa, before telling her late husband, “Babe, you take care of our Gigi. … We’re still the best team.”

If you would like to help the families of the victims of the crash, consider donating to the Mamba on Three Fund. Donations to the Mamba Sports Foundation will help support youth sports.