Basketball: Tributes flow for Kobe Bryant after death in helicopter crash

Tributes have flowed for NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash on Monday (NZ time). 

The 41-year-old was among five people killed in the crash in Calabasas, California, when his helicopter burst into flames. 

The cause of the crash is under investigation. Witnesses reported hearing the helicopter's engine sputtering, before it went down. 

The Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets NBA match observed a moment's silence before tipoff. 

News of Bryant's death sent a wave of shock throughout the sports world.

"Nooooooooooo God please No," tweeted former Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.

Current Philadelphia 76ers centre Joel Embiid said: "Man I don’t even know where to start.

"I started playing ball because of KOBE after watching the 2010 finals. I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life.



Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was devastated by the news. 

"Damn. RIP Mamba. May your memory be a blessing," he tweeted. 

"We can never forget how precious life is. How those who are special to you and never let them forget how deeply you love them.

"To all of my friends, thank you. Each of you have shared part of yourself with me and made my life better.

"I have tried to do the same. If you were here I would hug you like I just hugged my family.

"It hurts that it takes a tragedy to remind us of our mortality."

NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird said Bryant was not only an icon in the sports arena, but a man of the world, who touched lives in many ways.

"His star was continuing to rise every day and he knew no limits because of his many intellectual and creative talents and desire to give back to others - his passion for the game, for his family and for others was apparent in everything he accomplished," Bird said.

"There's no words to express the pain I'm going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi and my brother," wrote Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant's former Los Angeles Lakers teammate. "I'm sick right now."

NFL players were also among those to pay tribute. 

"We miss you already Kobe," said New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. 

The news broke during the NFL's Pro Bowl game and players were struggling to cope. 

Skateboarding icon Tony Hawk and former Olympic 100m gold medalist Usain Bolt  also chipped in. 

"Always gracious, always engaging, boundless talent, one of a kind," Hawk said, posting a photo of the pair on Instagram. 

"Still can’t believe it," said Bolt.

Former US President Barack Obama, who hosted Bryant and the Lakers at the White House after their 2010 championship, wrote: "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.

"To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day."

LA Sparks WNBA player Chiney Ogwumike shared a video, showing fans currently outside Staples Center - the home arena for the Lakers. 

New Zealand athletes have also paid their respects, with Tall Black Tai Webster and Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin among them. 

"Legends not suppose to go out like that," said Webster. 

"So Sad - a great man, an icon! RIP Kobe #24 / #8 forever," said McLaughlin. 

The news broke during Paris Saint-Germain's football match against Lille and Neymar dedicated one of his goals to Bryant. 

Three-time Grand Slam tennis winner Andy Murray said on Instagram: "This has hit me hard. Thinking of all his family, friends and colleagues."

Former England soccer great Gary Lineker tweeted: "Oh no. How awful. One of the greatest sportsmen of our lifetime. Utterly tragic", while current England forward Raheem Sterling wrote: "Rest easy Legend."