The NBA legend was killed in a crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on board.

Los Angeles Lakers small forward Kobe Bryant (24) is introduced before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., February 6, 2016.
Los Angeles Lakers small forward Kobe Bryant (24) is introduced before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., February 6, 2016. (Reuters)

Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA's all-time greats whose international stardom transcended basketball, was killed on Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on board, officials said. He was 41.

Bryant rocketed to fame as an 18-year-old rookie and played 20 years for the Los Angeles Lakers, 18 of them as an all-star, and winning five NBA championships. His death sent shockwaves through the National Basketball Association, which he helped propel to international prominence, and around the world.

The chopper went down around 1800 GMT (10 am local time) in hilly terrain in Calabasas, California, about 65 kilometres northwest of central Los Angeles, sparking a brush fire, officials said.

"There were no survivors. We have a manifest that indicates there were nine people on board the aircraft, the pilot plus eight individuals," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a news conference, declining to identify any victims.

Asked by reporters if he believed there were nine bodies at the crash site, after earlier reports indicated only five dead, Villanueva said: "That is our belief, yes."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among those killed, and sent condolences to Bryant's wife, Vanessa.

"He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary," Silver said.

A teammate from Bryant's daughter's basketball team, a parent of the teammate, and the pilot were also killed, NBC News reported.

Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was also killed, the Orange County Register reported, citing assistant coach Ron La Ruffa.

Stunned fans gathered near the Lakers' home arena - the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles - surrounding a wreath with a message: "Kobe we love you RIP." Some in the crowd dabbed tears as others laid flowers and basketball sneakers at the wreath.

First responders put out the flames at the crash site, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department said, posting a picture of a fire truck and smoke emerging from the brush in a ravine.

Bryant had been known to use a helicopter for travel since his days as a player for the Lakers, when he commuted to games in a Sikorsky S-76 chopper, the celebrity news website TMZ said.

The Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.

18-Time All-Star

Bryant played all 20 of his National Basketball Association seasons with the Lakers, winning five championships and being named an all-star 18 times.

He was the third-leading scorer in league history with 33,643 points, until LeBron James passed him on Saturday. In his final tweet, Bryant saluted James' achievement, writing: "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother."

Nicknamed "The Black Mamba," he became eligible to enter the Hall of Fame this year and is certain to be selected when the 2020 class is enshrined.

Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.

Bryant's star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show-business stars in Los Angeles.

In 2018, he won an Oscar for his animated short film "Dear Basketball."

But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.

Bryant denied the allegations and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.

Bryant and his wife filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage, but the couple said in 2013 they had reconciled.

Bryant's father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, also played in the NBA, and Kobe demonstrated from an early age he would surpass his father's accomplishments.

The Philadelphia native went straight from high school to the NBA, skipping the college ranks. Since he was still only 17 years old, his parents needed to co-sign his first contract with the Lakers and he played his first game with the team shortly after turning 18 in 1996.

He also won two Olympic gold medals, part of the US team in 2008 and 2012.

He retired after the 2015-2016 NBA season because of mounting injuries. In recent years, he had focused his attention on philanthropy and business ventures.

Source: Reuters