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Los Angeles Mourns Lakers Legend Kobe Bryant


Los Angeles is in mourning. The death of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has rocked the sports world and the city. Bryant was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash yesterday. His 13-year-old daughter was with him. Bryant played his entire professional career in Los Angeles. And we're joined now by NPR's Nathan Rott, who's outside of the Staples Center, Bryant's home court.

Hi, Nate.


SHAPIRO: Before you tell us about the scene there, can you give us the latest on the investigation and what investigators have learned about how this accident happened?

ROTT: So they're still trying to figure out a lot of what happened. They are on the scene right now - federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. What we do know is that the crash happened a little before 10 a.m. yesterday morning in the foothills northwest of LA in what were very, very foggy conditions. I was actually driving through the area around the time of the crash. And driving down the road, it was hard to make out the shape of the mountains and hills on either side - so really, really poor visibility. We know that the pilot of the helicopter was aware of those foggy conditions. He got clearance to fly in them. We knew that - we do know that he was an experienced pilot. But, obviously, something went wrong in that fog, and the helicopter struck a hillside with Bryant and eight other people on board, including a local college baseball coach and his family, Bryant's 13-year-old daughter. So, you know, whether it was the weather conditions or something else, I think, we'll find out in the coming days and months. Regardless of the cause, there's no doubt that it's a tragedy.

SHAPIRO: I know memorials have sprung up around the city. Tell us what it's like there at the Staples Center where you are.

ROTT: It's been pretty remarkable - you know, hundreds of people coming in, probably thousands throughout the course of the day, just to try to pay their respects - dropping off flowers, dropping off jerseys, dropping off signed basketballs. You know, most are wearing Lakers gear, purple and gold, lots of Kobe Bryant jerseys, people crying, people praying. The Lakers were actually scheduled to play here tomorrow night against the Clippers, the other LA team. So that would have, obviously, been a very emotional game for not just fans but for the players, you know, many of whom knew Kobe Bryant, idolized him. The NBA now says it's going to delay that game to a later date, you know, give people a chance to grieve.

SHAPIRO: When you talk to those people who have shown up to pay their respects, what do they tell you?

ROTT: Lots of disbelief, lots of heartbreak - you know, Kobe Bryant was only 41 years old. He had just started his post-basketball life. Producer Liz Baker and I had been asking folks here what Kobe Bryant meant to them. And here's some of what they had to say.

KAHAN SHERIF: He just gave you inspiration, you know, to try to do better, like, whether it was playing any other sport or doing homework. You know, he gave you an extra boost that you wanted to do better, you know?

RISHI SWAMI: I just - I wanted to be like him, you know? Every kid wants to be like the best athletes, and Kobe was that for me.

ROBERT FERNANDEZ: He was our champion, like, our hero. He never failed. He never let you down.

ROTT: That was Kahan Sherif, Rishi Swami and Robert Fernandez (ph), just a few of the many mourners that have come here in the last couple of days.

SHAPIRO: Nate, just in our last 30 seconds or so, every city has its sports idols. What is the special hold that Kobe has on LA?

ROTT: You know, Kobe Bryant played his entire career in Los Angeles - 20 years. And that is so rare in professional sports. And for a lot of those two decades, he was the face of the NBA. I was talking to a guy earlier who said that he was born in '96. He's from South LA. So he was born the year that Kobe was drafted by the Lakers. And so for all of his life and, you know, for all of my life, Kobe Bryant was the superstar that everybody looked up to in the NBA.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nate Rott, thanks a lot.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.