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Kobe Bryant, 13-Yr-Old Daughter Among 9 Killed in Helicopter Crash. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 26, 2020 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and indeed around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special Sunday edition of the Situation Room. And we're following very tragic, very sad breaking news out of California.
The NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash in the city of Calabasas. That's near Los Angeles. He was only 41 years old. L.A. County Police say there were no survivors. Bryant is one of nine victims among them, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Gianna was expected to play in a basketball game in nearby Thousand Oaks later in the afternoon, a game that Bryant was expected to coach.
CNN's Nick Watt is joining us now from Calabasas where the NTSB is on their way there to investigate further. Nick, what more are you learning first of all about the crash?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, yes, it's going to take those18 NTSB members some time to get there -- here. They'll probably land late Pacific Coast time, maybe 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. The FAA is here. So far, very few details coming out officially as to what might have caused this.
Now, as you mentioned, nine people on board, the pilot plus eight, among the victims we know were Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, and a baseball coach from Orange County called John Altobelli.
Now, as for the others, the sheriff is not releasing any names now. He said that would be inappropriate. Now, we have seen up at that crash scene, still little wisp of smoke hours there, Wolf. Hours later, it appears that helicopter hit the side of that mountain at some speed. We have seen in the last hour or so. We have seen camera flashes which we assume to be investigators on the scene.
Now, the first issue they had to deal with when they got there was putting out the fire that was ignited by that helicopter hitting the mountain side. Once that was taken care of, they then controlled the scene, and the investigators can come in and try to figure out what happened. Now, one focus of the investigation will undoubtedly be the weather.
Speaking to people around here, they said it was very foggy here this morning. And CNN's weather unit has just come out and said that, in fact, it was 100 percent humidity, which means that air was like soup. Visibility would have been very low and that's because there is a storm front moving past and also what they call the marine layer which we get a lot here on the California coast earlier in the mornings. So that is what they'll be looking into.
Meanwhile, Wolf, just disbelief here in Los Angeles that Kobe Bryant is gone, age just 41, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, so sad indeed. All right, Nick, thank you very much. Kobe Bryant's career was nothing short of legendary. He entered the NBA straight out of high school becoming the youngest player in NBA history at the time. Only 18 years old. He played his entire professional career with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning five NBA championships during his time with the team. He has two Olympic gold medals, one in Beijing in 2008 and one in London in 2012. In 1996, late Los Angeles broadcaster, Chick Hearn, a legend in his own right, talked with Kobe Bryant a day after his first game with the Lakers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHICK HEARN, AMERICAN SPORTSCASTER: Kobe Bryant, last night you get your first start as a pro. How did it feel?
KOBE BRYANT, BASKETBALL LEGEND: It felt good. It felt good. Going out, and over starting lineup, you know, tried to keep a straight face and keep a serious look, but, you know, I couldn't help but crack in a little smile.
HEARN: Do you get a little feel the palpitation?
BRYANT: Well, because, I mean you're so excited to get out there at the beginning of the game and I haven't done that since high school.
HEARN: Right, right.
BRYANT: All aside, I'm not sure to get excited.
HEARN: Speaking of high school, how big was the gym you played in the Merion? How many people?
BRYANT: About 500 people.
HEARN: Five hundred?
BRYANT: About 500 people.
HEARN: This seats 26,000.
BRYANT: Yes, I'm looking forward to it.
HEARN: What about Shaq?
BRYANT: I mean Shaq's talk every day. Every day when I'm practice and he's blocking one of my shots, when I'm getting lay up or something like that, and then we're talking, we're giving advice to one another, we're pumping each other up at the same time.
HEARN: He really, really is a nice man.
BRYANT: Yes, he is. He's like my older brother.
HEARN: You have an older brother?
BRYANT: Shaquille O'Neal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What a great guy. I'm joined now by Jay Williams. He's a former player for the Chicago Bulls. He's an ESPN analyst. Jay, thanks so much for joining us. So sad and tragic, but tell us a little bit about the conversations you're having right now with other NBA players this evening, former players, current players, among others?
JAY WILLIAMS, ESPN ANALYST: Wolf, guys are just heart broken. You know, Kobe Bryant was the epitome of class. As a young African- American male who, you know, also wanted to be educated by going to a school like Duke, I had an identity crisis growing up when I spoke one way -- the way I'm speaking to you right now within my own culture, I was considered to be an Uncle Tom at sell out (ph). But when I was in my own culture, you know, I was called -- I was being hood. That was too much.
And when I saw Kobe Bryant for the first time, I sat there, and I was in awe. Well, here's a guy who speaks multiple languages. Here's a guy who is a class act who is engaged, who wants to be a business mogul, and he never thought about anything small. He always thought about big. People will talk about Oprah. He would talk about Harpo Studios. He just had this vision, and he had this relentless pursuit of excellence.
The standard of excellence was always something that he persisted. And every time I was around him, he -- you can't explain greatness. It was something you had to feel by being in his presence. And he will forever leave his legacy on this game by being the one of best to ever do it and one of the best to ever represent the game of basketball.
BLITZER: And a role model, you know, for so many, so many people out there because of his work ethic. First, let's talk a little bit about that work ethic on the court, in the gym. Tell us about that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, so in my rookie year, I only played one year in the NBA before I was injured and we had to play against the Los Angeles Lakers. And I was trying to find myself because I was getting lost into the other outskirts of issues that were happening that were with the league at the time. And, you know, I tried to get to the gym around 3:00. Our game was at 8:00 to play Kobe in a bit shots. I wanted to make 400 shots, Wolf. And I get in there, and who else is shooting in the gym by himself at the other end of the court? It's Kobe Bryant.
And so, you know, I'm thinking about, this is great motivation I can have for myself. It takes me about an hour and a half to get 400 main shots. When I get done, I sit back down in the same chair, I lace my shoes and I look at the other end of the court, and Kobe Bryant is still going at the same pace he was going at when I first walked into the gym. I watched him for about 20 minutes. And I was sitting there saying there's no way this guy is going to be able to sustain when we play. Well, that night he had about 35, 40 points on us.
And I thought myself wondering having to ask him, you know, why he worked the why he worked. And I found him after the game, I said Kobe, why did you keep working that way? He said because I saw you come in the gym, and I wanted you to know that no matter how long or how hard you worked, you weren't going to outwork me. And that line right there is something I carry with me for the rest of my life. That truly epitomizes who Kobe Bryant is as a person. A relentless pursuit of excellence in everything he did.
BLITZER: What about outside of basketball? You said he was a role model. But talk a little about the enormous impact he's had. Forget about the basketball court for a moment.
WILLIAMS: I mean, what he's being able to do charity-wise around the city of Los Angeles, the things he's been able to do, even within women's basketball. You know, we had a conversation the other day where he was talking about Diana Taurasi could potentially play in the NBA. And he did huge wonders for the WNBA and being a voice for women's basketball players.
And also, you know, what he's been able just -- what he stands for, Wolf, when he walks into a room, he was present. The best example of who Kobe Bryant was off the court was that a lot of players when you have the mamba mentality like he had, it's easy to be isolated. It's easy to live in a world where you only think about yourself.
But I was doing a game last night. It was the 76ers at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James scored 18 points, and he surpassed Kobe Bryant in the all-time scoring leader list. And Kobe Bryant as soon as it happened sent out a tweet praising LeBron James saying, you deserve it. So he was gracious and he was humble in his approach and he was an ambassador, not only for just the game of basketball, but for the representation of who every young man or every person wanted to be, an epitome of class.
BLITZER: He certainly was and such a nice person as well. You got to speak to him over the years, you know, and he was just friendly. He was decent. He was honorable, a great family man, wonderful, wonderful kids. And our heart goes out to his wife and his daughters, and his 13-year-old little girl is gone with him.
WILLIAMS: Yes, Wolf, and everybody asks, you know, around ESPN the question is what's the legacy ultimately of Kobe Bryant. And I say, his legacy is now in his three daughters that survive him. And it's our job to make them remember the great memories that they have with their father. That's our responsibility.
And a lot of people can throw out accolades and, you know, 18-time, you know, NBA all star, and all NBA, and those things sound great, but they don't matter, Wolf. They don't matter. We're talking about a father and we're talking about a husband, and that's who Kobe Bryant is.
BLITZER: And his other daughters, Natalia, Capri, Bianka, his wife, Vanessa, a very, very sad moment indeed for not just basketball fans but for the whole country indeed so much of the world. But Jay Williams, thank you so much for spending a few moments recalling what a wonderful life Kobe Bryant had. Thanks so much for joining us.
WILLIAMS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have video of LeBron James arriving back in Los Angeles just a short time ago. He's obviously like so many of us, emotional. You can see him wiping his eyes. Just last night he surpassed Kobe Bryant on NBA's all time scoring list as we just heard Jay Williams report.
Bryant's last tweet by the way less than 24 hours ago was a congratulation to LeBron James. And now here's LeBron last night talking about the relationship he had with Kobe Bryant as well as the impact Kobe had on his own career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS PLAYER: In 2001, I believe I was playing in New Jersey and the all star game, if I'm not mistaken, you all can correct me, it was Philly, right? Yes, that Saturday, me and Maverick drove to the intercontinental in downtown Philadelphia, and he gave me a pair of his shoes which I ended up wearing that following night. It was the red, white, and blue Kobe's.
I was a 15, and he was a 14 and I wore them anyway. And I sat and just talked to him for a little bit, he gave me the shoes. I rocked them in the game. And it was the same night that we played Oak Hill against Melo. And then I saw what he was able to do the very next night winning MVP here in Philly.
Now, I'm here in a Lakers uniform in Philadelphia where he's from, where one of the first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes, he won also that week. It's just -- it's surreal. It doesn't make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And when you, I guess, when you live the right way or you just given everything to whatever you're doing, things happen organically, and it's not supposed to make sense, but it just happens.
And sorry, and I'm happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man got two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It's just crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well said by LeBron. I think he speaks for all of us. Let's go live to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Right now, Paul Vercammen is on the scene for us. I understand, Paul, a lot of fans are showing up to pay their respects.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf, so many Laker fans. If you can see behind me, it's a sea of Laker fans. And this is quite a lot of irony here, because this is the night of the Grammys when L.A. usually gets all gussied up and ready to see the show, and now all these die hard Laker fans had come out here and they've been chanting Kobe and Gigi for his daughter, and they've been chanting MVP in remembering him.
And Andrei step in here. Andrei is going to the Grammys as a guest, but he's also a huge Laker fan and I'll talk to you in one second. Also Andrei, you're memory of Kobe Bryant, most cherished memory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The very last game. Just what he left on the court that day and it really displayed everything he did his entire career. He went out on such a high level. To see him gone at such an early age of 41, it's sickening. It's hard to stomach to be honest with you.
VERCAMMEN: And what do you think the Grammys should do to honor him when you go to that event tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure there were some last minute changes with the Grammys. Everyone knows how structured the Grammys is, but I'm sure they're going to be something great for Kobe. They have to. It's -- I mean they're in his building, so.
VERCAMMEN: Thank you for your sentiments. We understand, Wolf, I heard from somebody very close to the ceremony that the Grammys will have a moment where somebody, and maybe it's even the hostess, Alicia Keys, will wear a Kobe Bryant jersey among other things. Also Pete here has or P.T. has been carrying this sign around all afternoon to honor his hero, Kobe Bryant. You've got to be getting a little bit tired, but --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit.
VERCAMMEN: -- what prompted you to come down and do this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, just a great man. You know, all his memories, his shots, buzzer beaters, you name it, everything he accomplished as an NBA player and as a human being, you know what I mean? There's no words for it, the greatest man alive.
VERCAMMEN: Was there any one play or moment that you'll cherish?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We all go through tough times but when he broke his Achilles and he went through that free throw and still managed to make it, that says a lot. Your mentality about winning, passion, because a lot of people play -- anybody can play and receive a check, but his mentality was playing and winning championships. He didn't care much about the money. He wanted to win championships and show that he wanted to be number one, whatever it took.
VERCAMMEN: Thanks, P.T. What he's referring to is Kobe Bryant's Achilles' tendon snapped. And as you may know, Wolf, he went on and shot the free throw. I too, covering for CNN, was in that building right down the street when he scored those 60 points.
And it's just infallible because as a reporter, you see amazing things in your life such as a complete solar eclipse. But to see Kobe Bryant in his late 30s pull that off with those fans chanting his name and to be in the press conference after where he reflected on what he did, that was astounding for me. And that's why there's so much heartfelt thoughts about Kobe here. I think it's the grit that really resonates with a lot of these fans behind me. Back to you now, wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, so sad, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, among the nine people. Let's not forget, there were nine people aboard that helicopter that went down. And the Orange Coast College baseball coach, John Altobelli, 56 years old, his daughter, Alyssa, his wife, Keri, they were aboard the helicopter with Kobe Bryant as well, so sad indeed.
They were simply going to a girl's basketball game. Gianna was playing basketball. His daughter, Alyssa, was playing basketball. And Kobe Bryant was going to coach. They were going to go have fun on a Sunday afternoon in the Los Angeles area. And it ended this way. We're going to have much more on this truly terrible news that we've been reporting. So sad. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYANT: It's one of those moments. And I think we all have moments like this in life, where it just seems like that day is never going to end. You know, it just seems like the moment that you're in just feels like the darkest moment to you, you know? And at that point, you really kind of have to step outside of yourself and put it in perspective. I think I'll be OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Live pictures are coming in from outside Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tributes to Kobe Bryant all over the country, indeed, and much of the world right now, people are reacting to the death of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, Gianna, only 13 years old and seven other wonderful people in that helicopter.
Michael Jordan just issued a statement. I'll read it to you. I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe. He was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often. I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply, and took great pride in his daughter's love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization, and basketball fans around the world.
Shaquille O'Neal issued this statement. There's no words to express the pain I'm going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi and my brother Kobe. I love you, and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers onboard. I'm sick right now. And then here's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, RETIRED NBA PLAYER: It's very difficult for me to put in words how I feel about the loss of Kobe Bryant. As a young boy, I met him when he was 11 or 12 years old. I was friends with his dad, Joe. We were former adversaries. Joe played for the 76ers, but he was a good friend, and someone that I shared a friendship.
And it's hard for me to understand now how this is affecting Joe and his wife. So, to Kobe's family, I want to send my most sincere and heartfelt regrets and prayers, and my thoughts are with you guys. Kobe was an incredible family man. He loved his wife and daughters. He was an incredible athlete and a leader in a lot of ways. He inspired a whole generation of young athletes.
He was one of the first ones to leave high school and come into the NBA and do so well, dominating the game and becoming one of the best scorers that the Los Angeles Lakers has ever seen. I had the privilege of being there when he scored his 81-point game. And it was something I will always remember as one of the highlights of the things that I have learned and observed in sports.
Kobe, my thoughts are with you, absolutely. Rest in peace, young man. This loss is -- It's just hard to comprehend. Go with God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well-said, indeed. Joining us now by phone, five-time NBA champion, former Lakers player, Michael Cooper. Michael, thanks so much for joining us. Very sad moments for all of us. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
MICHAEL COOPER, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Thank you for having me, Wolf. Yes, it is definitely a sad day here in Los Angeles as well as the Lakers. But I was just absolutely stunned. I mean, all the feeling went out of my body. I mean, Kobe was an icon here in Los Angeles, obviously with the Los Angeles Lakers, but in the community, a big advocate for women's basketball. He was going with his daughters.
[19:25:19] But this is just a tragic, tragic loss. And, you know, as everybody else is saying, my prayers and thoughts and sincerest goes out to the family and to your loved ones.
BLITZER: What was he like off the court, Michael?
COOPER: You know, Wolf, I had a very nice time as far as meeting Kobe, initiating him with the Lakers. When he came to the Lakers tryout when he was 19 years old, I was the one that actually had to work him out, and we were working out over at Morningside High. Jerry was -- Jerry West, our general manager was like, Coop, make it hard on him, be tough and, you know, make him work.
And, you know what? I knew at that point in time that that young man was going to be a heck of a basketball player. And the things he accomplished on the court does not even compare to what he did off the court. Kobe was a God-fearing man. You know, he really loved his family. He was committed to the community. He had the Mamba Academy up in Thousand Oaks, giving back to this community as well as not just his money but his time, being there and just being involved in anything.
You can call him. I called him one opportunity to come and help me out as far as the basketball fans, and he shows up and didn't even charge me, Wolf. He did it for free. But, you know, that was just this generosity of a brilliant young man that we actually had an opportunity just to watch him mature through basketball and him becoming as a father, dad, husband that he became.
BLITZER: What are you hearing from your friends, your former teammates, your colleagues out in Los Angeles?
COOPER: Well, everybody is just -- it's just a tragic loss. I mean, you know, just with so many words said, and, you know, I reached out to Magic. I texted him, I texted Norm Nixon, all the players, Byron Scott, and the guys are just at a loss for words. It's just, you know, I mean, there's nothing to say about this. This is just very, very sad, very sad.
BLITZER: Do you have a favorite Kobe memory or story, Michael, that you'd like to share?
COOPER: Well, that's the one I shared, when I first had an opportunity to go against him as far as we were deciding on who to draft, and to talking to him before and after that workout, but that workout was one. I mean, he gave it to me. And I always said that Larry Bird is the toughest player I've ever had to go against. I don't look at my own teammates or Lakers players as opponents.
But before he became a Lakers, he was tough. He was hard to guard. He could do and get anywhere he wanted on the court. And that's when you know that you're playing against a very talented offensive-minded score. But that's the one story that I have. And I mean, there's been many more that I might keep to myself, but it's just one.
Our activities as far as Lakers events and things like that, he was always very, very nice and cordial to talk to. And, you know, the Lakers player, every player that has put that Lakers uniform on, we're a family. It's like you're family to the end. And your wife and kids, and anybody that you're associated with are part of that Lakers family. And he is truly, truly going to be missed.
BLITZER: Been 20 seasons still with the Los Angeles Lakers, didn't play for any other NBA team. Michael cooper, thank you so much for sharing some thoughts.
COOPER: Wolf, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Our CNN Sports Anchor Andy Scholes went one-on-one with Kobe Bryant less than two weeks ago. Andy, you sat down with Kobe at a launch event for Major League soccer in Los Angeles. Tell us what he was like, what -- the nature of that conversation you had with him.
ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, you know, Wolf, any time you get a chance to talk to Kobe Bryant, it's a big deal and it's special, you know? We know he's one of the greatest NBA players of all time, five-time NBA champion. But he was also excelling, you know, in his post-NBA career in the business world. He was one of the early investors into the BodyArmor sports drink.
You see there, I was showing Kobe a picture. I was a ball boy back in the day for the Houston Rockets. And I showed him a picture of me and him. And he laughed. He said, look, we were both youngsters back then. And one thing about Kobe Bryant, Wolf, he was one of the most nice, genuine people. You know, I got to interact with him, you know, in two segments of my life, once when I was a ball boy and once now as a member of the media.
And throughout it all, he's always been so nice, so genuine. You know, I remember when I was a ball boy, Wolf, he always took time to take pictures with everybody, sign everyone's autograph. And that was when he was the best player in the NBA. You know, that can't be said about a lot of people. Kobe's just such a genuine guy.
We talked about a lot of things during that interview. We talked about soccer, which we know he's a big fan of, his daughter Gigi in the women's basketball game. So here's a part of my interview that aired or that took place, I should say, just 11 days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHOLES: You were one of the early investors into Body Armour. It's grown so much over the years. How cool is it now to be a partner with Major League Soccer?
KOBE BRYANT, FORMER NBA PROFESSIONAL PLAYER: No, it's crazy, man, because when we first started the company, it was such a small company. And we had this vision of doing these big things and servicing the athletes and educating them on nutrition and hydration and to find ourselves here now in partnership with MLS. And MLS is -- I mean, they've taken off, too. It is coming up on 25
years now, and the game has done nothing but grow, and so to have this relationship together as we look forward to doing some big things.
SCHOLES: I know you're big Barcelona fan, how do you think they're going to fare and where do you think Messi ranks in terms of best athletes in the world right now?
BRYANT: I think he is one of the best athletes of all time. His tenacity, the intelligence with which he plays as well as his skill, just put some head and shoulders above the rest.
Now Cristiano is right there with him. I think Barcelona right now is going through the transition period. Changing manager. There's a lot of questions to be answered. But I think they'll figure it out.
SCHOLES: The NBA fans love to debate, you know which team from which era was better. Shaq recently weighed in saying that he absolutely thinks you and him would have beaten this current Lakers team with LeBron and Anthony Davis. What's your take on that hypothetical matchup?
BRYANT: I don't weigh in on hypotheticals. Because as a competitor, there's nothing you can do about them. You can debate yourself to winning something, right? That is the beauty about sports, as you compete, you either win or you lose.
In the debate culture, there's never a clear winner, but it's fun to hear.
SCHOLES: You recently said your daughter, Gigi got you back into watching a lot of NBA. You've taken her to bunch of games this year, sitting courtside with her. As you watch games with her and coach her through her basketball journey, I wanted to get your take on if you think a woman could ever play in the NBA one day.
BRYANT: Play in the NBA. I think there are a couple players that can play in the NBA right now honestly. There's a lot of players that have a lot of skill that can do it.
Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne, I mean, there's a lot of great players out there and so, they could most certainly keep up with them.
SCHOLES: I think you're a big soccer fan growing up in Italy, when you were a kid. I wanted to get your thoughts on what seems to be an increase in racism in European football. And if there's anything that can be done to combat it.
BRYANT: It is always education, and understanding that racism is this thing that's been a part of our culture for a while. And even though now, you know, we've come such a long way, but there's still so much to be done.
And I think education is always the most important thing. I think speaking up and taking a stand, a significant stand. When I was growing up in Italy, I've always obviously witnessed it firsthand, going to certain soccer matches and things of that nature.
And things that my parents have taught me and educated me on how to deal with those sorts of things and looking at various muses that have handled things extremely well from Jackie Robinson on to Bill Russell and so forth and so on. So I think education is very important.
SCHOLES: Hey, thank you so much for your time.
BRYANT: You're very welcome, man. Very welcome.
SCHOLES: We appreciate it.
SCHOLES: Yes, and again, Wolf that was -- that took place just 11 days ago in Los Angeles at the Major League Soccer media event.
And you know, during my time with Kobe, I sat there and I actually said, I wanted to thank him for just being so nice and so genuine to me when I was a youngster, a ball boy, and again for that interview, and Wolf, he just smiled at me and nodded, and that was Kobe, just a very genuine individual.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, but really special, special basketball player but a very special person, indeed. Abby, thanks so much for sharing that with us and our viewers. Appreciate it very much.
Still ahead, as the world comes to grips with the passing of one of basketballs greats, we're going to take a closer look at what we're learning about the helicopter he was traveling in and the investigation that is now getting underway.
BLITZER: We continue to follow the breaking news, the NBA legend Kobe Bryant is dead at the age of 41; he and eight others including Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California.
Joining us now, former F.A.A. safety inspector, CNN safety analyst, David Soucie. David, we know that Kobe's helicopter crashed into the hillsides over there in Calabasas not too far from Los Angeles. We're still in the very early stages of the investigation. But tell us where do investigators usually start when something like this happens?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION SAFETY ANALYST: Well on site you can get a little bit of information. In this case, I think most of the information will be eyewitnesses, where was the aircraft? What happened to the aircraft before it went down? Those are the kinds of interviews that will be going on now.
Of course first and paramount is to take care of and ensure that the bodies get the respect and the victims get the respect that they deserve of, being carefully removed from the site and identified positively.
BLITZER: Yes, nine wonderful people on that helicopter. So are there any initial clues as to -- based on what you're hearing what may have caused this crash?
SOUCIE: Not at this point. It's too early to speculate, Wolf, as is the case in many of these accidents, but I'm very puzzled by it.
You know, the people, the travelers that put safety is paramount above all else, choose this helicopter, the S-76 and the S-76B, but this one particularly has just an amazing safety record.
It's got twin engines. It is designed specifically for corporate and commercial travel like this. I'm very puzzled by this. There's nothing that stands out to me mechanically, operationally. The operator has a long, long safety record, a good safety record as well.
So whatever this anomalous thing that happened is, this tragic event is going to be a surprise.
BLITZER: Yes, the N.T.S.B., the National Transportation Safety Board, their investigators are on the way to the site.
David Soucie, thank you so much for that.
SOUCIE: Sure, Wolf.
BLITZER: In Los Angeles this evening, artists and celebrities, they're headed to the Staples Center for this year's Grammy Awards, the very venue that was home to Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers. We will have some red carpet reaction and a lot more on this very sad breaking news story when we come back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're hearing from former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the death of Kobe Bryant. This statement just released moments ago. Let me read it. "Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and all those who died in today's helicopter crash."
"Kobe brought excitement and joy to basketball fans not just in Los Angeles, but all over the U.S. and around the world. He was also a leader off the court, including in his advocacy for young people, especially the vulnerable and homeless -- a passion I saw firsthand when I joined him and Vanessa for the opening of a housing project they and their foundation supported."
BLITZER: "Kobe Bryant lived a very large life in a very short time. But above all, he loved his family. Our prayers are with Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka and Capri, and all those who lost loved ones today." Former President Barack Obama also tweeted his sentiments. "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."
And President Trump offering his condolences as well just tweeting, "Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life. He loved his family so much and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna makes this moment even more devastating. Melania and I send our warmest condolences to Vanessa and the wonderful Bryant family. May God be with you all."
Our breaking news tonight: NBA legend Kobe Bryant dead at the age of 41, killed in a helicopter crash with eight others including once again his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Tonight in light of this tragedy, basketball knows no rivalries. Take a look at this, Madison Square Garden in New York City, home of the New York Knicks. The arena is lit in purple and gold with a picture of Kobe Bryant on the side.
Our Miguel Marquez is there live for, so describe the scene, Miguel for us.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the shockwave that was sent out from Los Angeles is being felt here in New York tonight. The Knicks and the Nets playing tonight. This is what the Madison Square Garden looks like.
This is a massive picture of Kobe Bryant that has been up, the colors purple and gold for the Los Angeles Lakers. There's another shot over here.
And then check this out, in this area, people have been taking pictures all afternoon, all evening as this news came. The shock not only here but in Philadelphia where he was from, Charlotte, North Carolina. Two of the -- the two teams playing tonight took a 24- second, as other teams have done, took a 24-second violation at the very top of the game, as other teams have done to remember Kobe Bryant, number 24 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Miguel Marquez thank you very much. Fans are also gathering outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That's also the site of tonight's Grammys.
Our Stephanie Elam is there for us. Stephanie, tonight is about music, but I can only imagine the mood there is a bit somber as a result of this tragic loss.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's so true, Wolf. I mean, so many people coming down the red carpet, so many musicians that you know and love talking about Kobe Bryant. You've got to keep in mind that the Grammys are being held in Kobe's house, at the Staples Center. I just went in there not too long ago, and there's pictures of Kobe
and Shaq together after winning championships. You can see them throughout the building.
One of the people coming down the carpet this evening is Debbie Allen, the world renowned dancer, as you know. She is also married to Norm Nixon, who played for the Lakers, and so she knew Kobe Bryant and she talked about how first time she saw him. He jumped off the bench to say hi to her because of the fact that fame was so big in Italy when he was growing up.
And then they also talked about their relationship with Michael Jackson. And then here's the rest of what our conversation was about her relationship with Kobe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEBBIE ALLEN, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: So Kobe and I have stayed friends and he was in the middle of creating an entire universe for the world to share -- books and movies and theater and everything -- a legacy that will still emerge and he was a tremendous supporter of young people in the arts.
He was a tremendous supporter of young people and everything. It was what his whole life's work was about. And I'm just feeling such pain today to have lost that big light and wishing his family the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: And you can hear the emotion in her voice as she was talking about him, and I have to tell you, I've talked to many people here. Legends, to people who are new on the scene and everyone talking about Kobe, talking about their excitement about being here, but also feeling so sad for the loss of somebody so young along with his daughter, and just how the family must be feeling. But you're definitely feeling it here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, yes, I'm sure. Stephanie Elam. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Our breaking news tonight, the NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people.
Bryant was one of the greatest players of all time, his loyalty tied to just one team his entire career, the Los Angeles Lakers.
He left the game in 2016, and at the time, he wrote a poem to announce his retirement from the sport he loved so much, the sport he was clearly teaching his daughter to love and respect as well.
The poem was turned into a short film and Bryant ended up winning an Oscar. I want to end our show tonight with a clip from the film. Here's Kobe Bryant in his own words
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYANT (voice over): No matter what I do next, I will always be that kid with the rolled up socks, garbage can in the corner, five seconds on the clock all in my hands. Five, four, three, two, one.
Love you, always, Kobe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Kobe Bryant was just 41 years old; his daughter, Gianna, just 13. They leave behind a mother and wife and three daughters. So sad. In fact, three daughters survived.
Also killed in the crash, baseball coach, John Altobelli, his daughter, Alyssa; and wife, Keri. Our thoughts and prayers to all involved tonight. Deepest, deepest condolences to those families and friends.
Don Lemon continues our coverage right after this.