CHICAGO (CBS) — The world was mourning the loss Sunday of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
CBS 2’s Chris Tye spoke Sunday with NBA alumnus Kendall Gill, now living in Chicago, who knew Bryant and said this might just be the darkest day in league history.
“It’s unbelievable that this would even happen,” Gill said. “You know, I’m not an emotional person. But this one, this is hard for me today.”
In college at the University of Illinois, Gill played for all four years for the Fighting Illini NCAA basketball team. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1990 and played for numerous teams – including the Chicago Bulls during the 2003-2004 season.
Altogether, Gill – a Chicago area native – spent 15 years in the NBA, a league that becomes a fraternity over time. And of course, he played against Bryant several times over the years.
“We’ve lost family members before in our fraternity, but this one – this one hits harder than anyone we’ve ever had,” Gill said.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, was 41.
The Federal Aviation Administration said his helicopter crashed Sunday morning under unknown circumstances near Calabasas, California.
Kobe Bean Bryant was born in Philadelphia. He grew up in Italy, where his father played professional basketball.
At 17 years old, Bryant was drafted out of high school in 1996 and became the fourth leading scorer in NBA history.
He retired in 2016 after spending 20 years with the Lakers.
“NBA players, we’re a tight group you know?” Bryant said. “We’ve all called each other and texted each other and everything. It’s just befuddling to lose a family member like this.”
Gill shared an agent with Bryant – a player who, like Michael Jordan, played with laser focus. Bryant’s legacy was still being carved out with a dynamic post-NBA career.
“Words can’t even describe how I feel right now,” Gill said.
In addition to his five titles, Kobe Bryant was selected for the All-Star Game 18 times and earned an MVP award in 2008.
He was a 12-time member of the all-defensive team and made the all-NBA team 15 times.
Bryant was among several high-profile nominees for the NBA’s 2020 Hall of Fame class.
Numerous fans and fellow players issued tweets or statements mourning Bryant on Sunday, including Jordan. He wrote:
“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.”
Also Sunday night, the United Center became one of many memorials to Bryant, as dozens of Chicagoans came to pay respects.