Shaquille O’Neal grieves in emotional appearance: ‘I lost a little brother.’
LeBron James said he was “heartbroken and devastated.” Michael Jordan said he was “in shock over the tragic news.”
But one basketball player will forever be associated with Kobe Bryant, sometimes even mentioned in the same breath: his friend, rival, and former Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Shaquille O’Neal.
The two formed a Lakers duo that was dynamic, at times tense and widely acknowledged as one of the top tandems in basketball history, delivering three consecutive championships for the Lakers before O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat. The pair — who have their own Wikipedia entry called the “Shaq-Kobe feud” — eventually reconciled, to the point that O’Neal told Bryant’s daughters to call him “Uncle Shaq.”
In an emotional appearance on TNT on Tuesday, O’Neal shared that it felt like a “stabbing” in the heart when he learned that a helicopter crashed near Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday, killing Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people.
“Haven’t felt the pain that sharp in a while,” O’Neal said, adding, “I lost a little brother.
Emotion welled up in his voice throughout the appearance, but when a fellow sportscaster tried to offer him a break, O’Neal stopped him and pressed on.
“I think a lot of times we take stuff for granted,” said O’Neal, who recently lost his sister to cancer and lamented that he would never be able to joke with Bryant at his Hall of Fame ceremony.
“It definitely changes me,” O’Neal said. “I work a lot, you guys know. I work probably more than the average guy. But I just really have to now take time and call and say, ‘I love you.’”
‘I’m a girl dad.’ Fathers and daughters are posting tributes.
O’Neal’s appearance was one of several emotional tributes being widely shared online this week, as the sports world continues to reel from the news of the crash. On Tuesday, the authorities announced that the remains of all nine victims had been recovered from the crash site. As of Wednesday morning, no funeral plans for Bryant or his daughter had been publicly announced.
An ESPN anchor, Elle Duncan, spoke through tears on air recalling the time that she met Bryant when she was eight months pregnant. Upon learning that she was expecting a girl, Bryant high-fived her.
“I would have five more girls if I could,” he told her. “I’m a girl dad.”
Bryant’s role as a father to four daughters and his strong support of women’s athletics later in life have emerged as key parts in his complicated legacy, which also includes a sexual assault case from 2003 that did not lead to a conviction. Bryant apologized to the woman in 2004, acknowledging that she had not viewed their encounter as consensual, as he had.
By Wednesday, thousands of social media posts included the hashtag #girldad, as fathers posted photos of special moments with their daughters, and women expressed gratitude for the dads who raised them.
The helicopter fell quickly before the crash.
The helicopter carrying Bryant and others on their way to a youth basketball tournament fell at a rate of more than 33 feet per second and slammed into the hill in a “high-energy impact crash,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The helicopter had climbed to 2,300 feet before plummeting and may have missed clearing the top of the hill by 20 to 30 feet, Jennifer Homendy, a board member of the N.T.S.B., said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
It is not clear why the helicopter fell at such a fast rate, which experts said was too fast for a standard landing.
Gregory A. Feith, a former senior air safety investigator for the N.T.S.B., said on Wednesday that the speedy fall of the helicopter could indicate that it had stalled before dropping to the ground, possibly because the pilot had tried to quickly pull up when he saw the approaching hill.
The helicopter was traveling forward at about 152 miles per hour just before it crashed, according to radar data published online by FlightAware.
Photographs from the scene, published by the N.T.S.B., showed several heaps of tangled metal sitting on the side of the hill on Tuesday. Investigators recovered an iPad and a cellphone from the site, Homendy said, and had loaded pieces of the crashed helicopter onto a truck to move to a secure location.
Investigators said the helicopter lacked a terrain warning system.
Officials have said that the helicopter was not outfitted with a system to warn pilots if they are getting too close to the ground, technology that is voluntary but has been recommended by the N.T.S.B. for more than a decade.
It is too early to know whether the lack of the warning system played a role in Sunday’s crash.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, 50, had years of experience and had made the same trip the day before in clear conditions, roughly 90 miles from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., where Bryant lived, to Camarillo, near Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy, which was hosting a youth basketball tournament over the weekend.
Zobayan had logged more than 8,200 hours of flight time, officials said, at least 1,250 of which were in the Sikorsky S-76B, the model of helicopter he was piloting on Sunday.
Former athletes are recalling the pain of losing other beloved teammates.
Roberto Clemente’s death at 38 in a 1972 plane crash shocked the sports world. One of the best players in baseball history, he had been on a cargo plane that was attempting to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
After Bryant’s death this weekend, Steve Blass, a teammate of Clemente’s on the Pittsburgh Pirates, thought back to the 4 a.m. phone call that awakened him on New Year’s Day in 1973.
There were no grief counselors then, Blass said, so Clemente’s teammates had to handle their emotions as best they could. The team chartered a plane to a memorial service in Puerto Rico, where Clemente grew up. Blass delivered one of the eulogies.
But over the coming months, he recalled, the sadness continued to come in waves: during the first spring training without Clemente, the first opening day without him, the first wins and the first losses.
“The grieving is universal, but it’s also so personal,” Blass said. “It’s all of those things.”
As Bryant’s high school team played, the clock was set to 33, his former number.
The scoreboard clock in a suburban gym was set at 33 seconds on Tuesday night, in honor of the jersey Bryant wore in high school, and ticked silently to zero before a hushed crowd.
Bryant, who attended Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia, guided the team to a Pennsylvania state title in 1996, before he jumped straight to the N.B.A.
Bryant remains what his former high school coach, Gregg Downer, called the heartbeat of the school. Downer wore Bryant’s old warm-up jacket to an afternoon news conference Tuesday. Later, he took the bench during a road game, wearing a shirt that bore Bryant’s likeness.
“My heart hurts so bad,” Downer said. “My insides hurt so bad. I realized I had lost my hero.”
A reporter was reinstated after tweeting about Bryant’s sexual assault case.
The Washington Post reporter who referred to a sexual assault charge against Bryant on Twitter in the hours after his death has been cleared to go back to work.
The newspaper had put the reporter, Felicia Sonmez, on paid administrative leave Sunday, saying her Twitter posts “displayed poor judgment.” More than 300 of her colleagues rallied to her defense on Monday, arguing in a petition to Post management that Ms. Sonmez had not violated the newspaper’s social media guidelines, a set of rules asking its journalists not to share opinions online.
On Tuesday, the paper issued a statement from Ms. Grant saying that, after a review, it had concluded that Ms. Sonmez “was not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.”
The statement also referred to her tweets as “ill-timed” and continued: “We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”
Bryant was arrested and charged with felony sexual assault after an encounter with a 19-year-old hotel worker in Vail, Colo. The criminal case was dropped in 2004, and the following year, Mr. Bryant reached a private settlement with the accuser.
Reporting was contributed by Scott Cacciola, Chris Hamby, Jeré Longman and Marc Tracy.