This Day In History: January 26

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On January 26, 2020, a helicopter carrying former pro basketball player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others crashes in Calabasas, California, roughly 30 miles north of Los Angeles; everyone on board dies. Bryant’s death sent shockwaves through the American sporting world.

Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 until 2016, winning five NBA Championships and the 2008 Most Valuable Player award while making the All-Star team in 18 of his 20 seasons. By his mid-career, Bryant had established himself as one of the greatest players in NBA history, known for his clutch shooting, capable defending, work ethic, and longevity. He was accused of sexual assault in 2003, a charge which he settled out of court—the episode cost him some of his most lucrative sponsorship deals, but he retained his status as one of the wealthiest and most beloved American athletes. In addition to his long playing career, Bryant was known for his philanthropy and several business ventures and film projects (he wrote the 2017 short film Dear Basketball, which won an Academy Award).

Bryant and his daughter, along with the other passengers, were headed to Gianna’s basketball game at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. Not long after takeoff, the helicopter crashed in foggy conditions. The accident shocked sports fans across America and around the world. Bryant had been set to host the Grammy Awards that very evening, and the ceremony became one of the first of countless tributes to him and his daughter. The Los Angeles Airport, the Empire State Building and the Burj Khalifa were all lit in purple and yellow, the Lakers’ colors, in tribute to Bryant. Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s longtime teammate, sometime rival, and another of the era’s greatest players, said he had “no words to express the pain” he felt at Bryant’s death, and fellow NBA legend Michael Jordan called Bryant “one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”