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Kobe Bryant, 13-Year-Old Daughter Among Nine Killed In Helicopter Crash. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 26, 2020 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world to a special edition of The Situation Room. And we start this hour with very, very tragic, very sad news out of California. It's news that has left the world of sports indeed, the country at large, so much of the world in a state of true shock.

The NBA legend, Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year- old daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash earlier today. He, of course, was one of basketball's greatest players ever. Winner of NBA titles, two-time Olympic gold medals, a Most Valuable Player Award and even an Oscar.

The crash that took his life happened earlier today in the town of Calabasas, just outside of Los Angeles. And the cause is still under investigation. But we expect to learn more shortly. The National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB, they will hold a briefing any moment, as it sends investigators to the crash site.

CNN is covering all angles of this breaking news story, and let's start with our correspondent, Nick Watt, he is live on the scene in Calabasas for us.

Nick, first of all, what are you learning about the crash?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that the FAA is already on scene, as you mentioned, the NTSB on the way. I don't think we will get any official answers for quite some time. But what we know from speaking to people in this area is that when the crash occurred earlier this morning, this was a very foggy morning. Visibility would have been low. I spoke to a pilot friend of mine who said he decided not to fly today because of the visibility.

I also was speaking to people who lived here on the other side of the valley from the crash. They say they heard a loud impact, which might suggest this was not a controlled landing gone wrong, this was something else, so visibility, of course, something being spoken of. But I must stress, Wolf, we have no official indication.

What we are seeing over at the crash scene there, there is still a little bit of smoke. This crash ignited a brush fire on that hill site. In the past 20 minutes or so, we have seen the flashbulbs of cameras taking pictures of the scene.

Now, first responders had to deal with the fire first while also trying to preserve this scene. But, you know what, Wolf, here in Los Angeles, the how and why are very secondary at the moment. Kobe Bryant is dead at 41 years old. That is what people care about here.

I'm surrounded by hundreds of people, many wearing Lakers jerseys, some wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys. One young man I spoke to said, I'm still in disbelief, denial. He said, Kobe Bryant is who what made me watch basketball in the first place.

Now, we have spoken to two parents who were waiting at the Kobe's Mamba Sports Academy, there was a tournament going on there this morning. Kobe's team, his daughter's team, Gigi, they were supposed to be playing there at noon, did not make it.

Now, we did just hear from the sheriff, Wolf, confirming that there were nine people on board, eight plus the pilot. We know Kobe Bryant, we know his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, we've also learned from the Orange County Register newspaper that John Altobelli, who was a baseball coach at Orange County College, was also on board, no names beyond that.

And, you know what, Wolf, the sheriff summed it up. He said, we're not going to give out anymore names right now. All he said is God bless their souls. Wolf?

BLITZER: And our deepest, deepest condolences to all of those wonderful families, indeed. Nick, we're going to get back to you.

I want to show you our viewers right now a moment of silence held in Kobe Bryant's honor at the Denver Nuggets game just a little while ago right as the tragic news first broke. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, basketball fans, a tragedy has befallen the world of basketball. Earlier today, at the age of 41, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash. In 20 seasons with the Lakers, Kobe was a 17 time all-star, two-time NBA Finals MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time NBA champion.


The NBA and the game of basketball will mourn this loss together.

Please join us in a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant. Rest in peace, Mamba.


BLITZER: Very sad moment indeed.

Joining us on the phone right now, Kenny Smith, a former NBA player and now the co-host on the NBA on TNT, our sister network.

Kenny, I don't know what to say. Like so many millions and millions of people all over the country and all of world, it's so tragic, it's so sad. Tell us, first of all, how you learned about this and what went through your mind.

KENNY SMITH, ANALYST, NBA ON TNT: Wow, hey, Wolf. I was in disbelief, just like everyone else, shocked and just broke down into tears. I live in Los Angeles right now. I have A.U. (ph) basketball teams that play at the Mamba and we practice there. So I'm in that gym four times a week, his facility. Kobe is in there with his daughter and his teams all the time. You know the time that he's investing into his family now.

So, just shocked, and learned about it as I was driving towards home. My daughter called me disbelief, And said, I hope you're sitting down because I have news that you need to hear. And she told me what happened, and I just stopped the car and sat and just broke down in tears, because it's just a tragic incident all around.

BLITZER: Yes. I think your reaction was almost the same as my reaction when my wife called me and gave me the news. It was so horrible.

Tell us a little bit about Kobe Bryant. What will you remember most?

SMITH: It's interesting. I think we've all -- we watched him as a basketball player. But this transformation that we were seeing in front of our eyes as a retired player is what I think I'm going to remember most. Because, again, he became, and everyone can relate to, the soccer mom, he became the soccer dad. Basically, this is a carpool but his carpool was a helicopter, so going to a game. Because most of us realize our kids probably are never going to probably make -- get a college scholarship and probably not going to be in the NBA or the WNBA, but you're spending this time with them.

And everything about his career was about him, everything. Kobe Bryant this, Kobe Bryant that, commercials, and his transformation and retirement was all about highlighting them. So that's what we all, I think, as former players try to achieve, because we know a lot of our lives are about us.

And he was now saying, okay, now, I'm going to showcase my family as much as I can through Twitter and Instagram, he could do easily now, everything was about them. And I think that's where it's hitting most of the players now because that's the life that they're trying -- just trying to -- that he's trying to build, that they're trying to build and we were trying to build.

BLITZER: And let's remember, Kenny, what a great, great player, amazing player Kobe Bryant was, five-time NBA champion, 17-time all- star, two-time Olympic medalist. Do you have a favorite Kobe Bryant moment because there were so many wonderful moments?

SMITH: So many, as a fan, because, again, our interactions were at most 30 minutes when I interacted with him. And I'm also feeling for my comrade, Shaquille O'Neal, man. I just -- I know how he must feel right now. And I've been texting him and talking to him. So I feel especially bad for him, more than anything, as well as the family that's gone on.

But my most memorable basketball moment, I think is when he hit a shot against Phoenix and he pulls the jersey to the side and he's like showing his heart.

And the one thing that if you recognize, Wolf, there are people in the media, in your profession, that go, you know, they idolize, think that maybe you do, people in certain areas, the best of the best emulate Kobe. So all-stars in our game emulate him. He enjoyed the standard of what people have measured. People don't say anything else. They say, well, is he good as Kobe Bryant or he's the next Kobe Bryant or he's the next Jordan. So he's the measuring stick for the next position of what it is to be a great basketball player.


BLITZER: And he was a 17-time NBA all-star, went to the all-star game 17 times. I think -- I know you were at many of them. I think I was in awe. I go every year to the NBA all-star game. I was in all of them. And I remember specifically every single time, wherever we are, whether in New Orleans or Miami or Los Angeles or Chicago, wherever the NBA all-star weekend is taking place, whenever Kobe Bryant was introduced, it was a special moment for the 20,000 or so fans who were inside that arena. And you probably felt it as well.

SMITH: Without question. Because his greatness was captivating for fans but could make opponents uncomfortable. And that is very difficult to have both. A lot of times, players can be great but other great players say, well, he doesn't make me uncomfortable in terms of making me play differently. He is the only one of the few players in our league in the history of the game that the great players he could make uncomfortable.

And he's -- again, just talking about memories, back to when Hurricane Katrina hit, I called him, said, hey, man, I need you to come to play in a charity game. And this was on a Monday, Wolf, on Friday, in Houston, Texas, to help the people in Hurricane Katrina.

He says, how many players do you have? I said, Kobe, honestly, well, you're the first person I called because I know if I get you, everyone else is going to come. And he said, yes. He said, you know what, tell everybody I'm playing. And he said, tell them to strap up because I will play for real.

And from there, I had 26 players in less than 24 hours say, yes, because Kobe Bryant said, yes, first.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a special moment. We're showing our viewers, Kenny, live pictures outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles right now. People are gathering there. There is obviously a big picture of Kobe, in Loving Memory of Kobe Bryant. It's hard to believe only 41 years old and he has passed. It's shocking to all of us. I obviously got to meet him on a few occasions and he was such a wonderful, special, always so nice. Professionally, as far as basketball is concerned, where would you rank him? He's clearly in the top fiv, but what do you think?

SMITH: Like I said, I tell you Michael Jordan on measuring juxtaposition. So when people say, hey, are you the next Jordan, they say, are you next Kobe, and the used to say at one time, are you the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Wilt Chamberlain. Those are the only four or five guys that you would hear, maybe -- and Oscar Robertson, and that's it. You're not (INAUDIBLE) anything else. They're the only guys who could be the next, because those are the most dynamic, captivating, cultivating players in the history of our game, and he's going to be missed from that regard.

Was he a perfect person? No. At times, we are seeing his flaws as well. But in terms of what he did, in terms of his competition level and the detail and the level of excellence, and, again, the transformation into this, it's not about me anymore, it's about my family, this transformation that we were witnessing at the early stages of his retirement is what I admired the most.

BLITZER: Well, final question, Kenny, before I let you go. We're getting ready mid-February for the NBA all-star game. It's going to be, this year, in Chicago. I'll be going there and you'll be there and you'll be broadcasting, no doubt from there. It's going to be a different NBA all-star game because we've lost Kobe Bryant.

SMITH: Without question. Everything in the all-star weekend is about celebratory. So I think that what we should also acknowledge is celebrate his life and not mourn his life as well. So it can be a great celebratory weekend about all of the great things that he's done. We can make everything about 8 and 24. So I don't know how you do it but everything should have a 24 and 8 motif to it or a theme to it and just celebrate the life of a guy who carried the NBA on his back for like ten years or a decade or more, and was the most known and polarizing figure in the game around the world.

BLITZER: Kenny Smith, thanks so much for sharing some thoughts on this very, very sad moment. And I think you're absolutely right. We will celebrate Kobe Bryant in the days, weeks, months and years to come, especially a couple of weeks at the NBA all-star game in Chicago. Thanks very much.

Right now, I want to bring in award-winning sports broadcaster, Bob Costas, to get his reaction. Bob, I mean, so sad, I don't know what you can say, but tell us how you felt when you heard the news that Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, others were killed in this helicopter crash.


BOB COSTAS, AWARD-WINNING SPORTSCASTER: Obviously an unspeakable tragedy, especially when children are involved and the bold-faced name is Kobe. But there are eight others and not just his daughter, beyond Kobe and Gianna, there are seven others, and it's a tremendous tragedy across the board. I thought back personally to the Kobe Bryant I met when he was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, where the gym in which his old high school plays is now named after him.

He had had an unusual youth for an NBA player. His dad, as you know, had been an NBA player, Joe Jellybean Bryant, who played with the 76ers, a team made of Julius Irving in the '70s and with a couple of other clubs and then he spent a good portion of his youth, speaking of Kobe, in Italy, spoke fluent Italian.

He was a more mature 18-year-old and much more aware than most do with me, not just as an athlete but almost any 18-year-old and in any walk of life, he was tremendously self-possessed, tremendously aware and poised when I interviewed him for the first time at age 18.

And he was a superstar by the time he was in his early 20s. He didn't just have tremendous talent, he had presence, he had star quality. And as Kenny Smith told you a moment ago, yes, he and Shaquille O'Neal were a nearly unstoppable combination when they won three consecutive NBA championships, but there was always a feeling that he was 1A and Shaq was the most dominant player in the game. But then Kobe went on to lead the Lakers to two world championships after Shaq had departed for the Miami Heat, and that was a statement he wanted to make.

Kobe, by everybody's testimony, was always, no matter what the accolades were, no matter what the achievements were, he was always pushing for something better and always measuring himself against perhaps an unattainable, even for him, standard.

BLITZER: What made him such an exceptional player?

COSTAS: Well, you have to start with talent. But then there's also dedication. Everyone who was close to him -- and I got an up close view for a long time when the NBA was on NBC for a good portion of his career through the early 2000s, but even in the later years when I didn't see as much as him, those following him, covering him, playing with him, against him, said that every off-season, no matter what he had done, he might have been the MVP or the scoring champion, he always came back having added something else to his repertoire, having added some other move that would frustrate defenders.

And I think almost as much as anything, something that tells you the nature of him as a competitive athlete, in 2013, he tore his Achilles tendon. At this point, he's already been in the league 15 years. His hall of fame status has long since secured. They say he will miss the better part of a year. He comes back in December of that year, and barely a week later, breaks a bone in his left knee. He's until October of 2014, and then tears his rotator cuff.

Almost anybody else at that advanced athletic age with all the achievements already in place, would have said, okay, fine that's it. But he put himself through a kind of athletic and rehabilitation hell to get back on the floor, to make one final statement, to play one final year to leave people with an image of Kobe Bryant not hobbling around but scoring 60 points in his last game against the Utah Jazz.

BLITZER: And all of us watched that game with amazement, indeed.

As you know, Bob, Kobe Bryant went straight to the NBA right out of high school at only 18 years old. And what's really amazing, and it's pretty unusual, I think, and I don't know if you agree, he played for only one team all those years, about 20 years, the Los Angeles Lakers. What did that mean that he stuck with one team for so many years?

COSTAS: That's increasingly rare in pro sports and it's something that people value, the player who they attach to just one team. You think of Cal Ripken with Baltimore Orioles or Derek Jeter, who is now headed to the hall of fame with the Yankees. That's something important to people. Tom Brady now contemplating where he will go next. It just will seem a little odd if Tom Brady wears a uniform other than the Patriots. Just it seems a little bit, although it's just a footnote for Michael Jordan, but to see him play for the Washington Wizards. Kobe Bryant never wore a uniform other than the Lakers, which reminds me that he did wear two numbers for the Lakers, 8 and 24.


And I don't know if you heard about this, Wolf, but in at least one game, and I'm told that it may happen in several NBA games tonight, the Raptors are playing the Spurs tonight. And on each team's first possession, they each intentionally took a 24-second violation. They just stood and held the ball, didn't attempt to score, took a 24- second violation, both Raptors and Spurs, to honor Kobe Bryant and the number 24.

BLITZER: It's really amazing.

Before I let you go very quickly, Bob, because I know you're going to be busy all night and hopefully you will be back with us, but two-time gold medal winner at the Olympic games, and you've been to all those Olympic games over the years, the NBA has become so popular not only in the United States but all over the world right now, and Kobe Bryant, whether in Europe or Africa or Asia or south America, he's a household name.

COSTAS: Yes, in the modern history of the NBA. And this is to take nothing away from Kareem, who straddles both eras, or from Wilt or Bill Russell or Bob Cousi or whoever proceeded, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West. In the modern history of the NBA, I think the most marketable players and most internationally recognized players post-Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have certainly been Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. And part of it is because Kobe is a unique name, but he was one of that handful of one name athletes. You didn't need the last name. Everybody knew who Kobe was as they know who LeBron is.

BLITZER: Really amazing. As I've traveled all over the world, everybody obviously knew who he was and everybody that loved basketball and so millions of people around the world do love basketball.

Bob Costas, I know you're going to be sticking around. We'll continue our conversation. We're also getting reaction right now from around the world on this very tragic, very sad, breaking news. The on NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, among nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles. More on his life and legacy when we come back.


BLITZER: The National Transportation Safety Board is briefing reporters right now on this tragic helicopter crash. Let's listen in.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: -- structures and power plants. And we already have a staff person from the regional office on site.

We will also have two staff members from our family assistance team who will be working with the families and other loved ones to help them get their resources that they need over the next couple of days and months. We are leaving in a few minutes. I expect we will arrive late tonight. We're likely to have a media briefing sometime tomorrow. Please monitor our Twitter, which is ntsb_newsroom, for those announcements.

I have time for a couple of quick questions, if you'll raise your hand, state your name and your affiliation.


HOMENDY: The question is what types of things will we be looking for.


Our team will be looking at the history of the pilot's and whatever crew was on board. We'll be looking at maintenance records of the helicopter. We will be looking at records of the owner and operator of the helicopter, and a number of other things that we look at as part of the investigation.


HOMENDY: That's hard to tell. The question is, how late will we be getting to work? We do have somebody who's on scene or en route from our western region office. And so when we get on scene, we'll have to assess what we're able to do at that time.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Media on the ground is reporting nine people were killed in that crash. Was it supposed to be (INAUDIBLE) carry nine people (INAUDIBLE)?

HOMENDY: The question is, how many people can be carried in the Sikorsky 76B. We are trying to figure out what the configuration of that helicopter is. It really just depends on the configuration. So that's something we're still trying to verify.

One more question.


HOMENDY: Is it typical to send 18 -- and I should clarify, it's not a total of 18 investigators, that includes our investigative staff. There is the investigative staff, there're the board members, there are a couple from media relations, there's our family assistance team, and I think that covers it. But it's typical for any of our investigations. This does not change anything. This is just how we would respond to any investigation.


HOMENDY: Does this type of helicopter have a black box? That's something we'll have to look to as part of the investigation. We're still on our way there.

So thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right. Jennifer Homendy, a board member of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, they will have a full-scale investigation of this tragic, horrific helicopter crash, Kobe Bryant and eight others killed. Kobe Bryant only 41 years old, his 13-year- old daughter as well.

Peter Goelz is with us, CNN Aviation Analyst, former Manager Director over the NTSB.

Peter, so walk us through what is about to begin.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they're going to land tonight. They will probably do a quick tour of the site because they won't get there until after 10:00 or 11:00 L.A. Time. And they will make sure that the site is secure, that any key pieces of equipment have not been damaged. They're going to their family assistance team that's going into action, and they are very skilled. This is such a tough accident and they will be important.

But tomorrow morning, the real work will begin they want to find out as, remember, Homendy said, they want to know the maintenance records of this plane, the pilot qualifications, what was the weather like, what's the radar tracks show, was there any communication between the pilot and the ground.

BLITZER: Tell us about this S-76 Helicopter. You're familiar with them.

GOELZ: I am. There's about -- there's over a thousand of them in use worldwide. They're used in a military setting, they're used as air ambulances and they're also the helicopter of choice for high-end private use. I mean, this is a dual engine turbo charged helicopter that has a very solid record.

BLITZER: So as far as you can remember off the top of your head, mo previous major accidents?

GOELZ: There have been, I think, three that I was able to look up today. But it certainly with this number of helicopters in the air, it's a very positive record.

BLITZER: And you heard the question, how many people can usually be seated in a helicopter like that. GOELZ: Well, they use this helicopter for offshore oil business, for transferring crews out to the rigs. So you can get 12 to 15 people into this type of helicopter, depends on who is getting on. But I don't think nine passengers would be a weight issue for this powerful --

BLITZER: That was the issue, whether there were too many people on board, but you're saying they weren't.

GOELZ: Probably not. You would look at it.

BLITZER: And the weather?

GOELZ: The weather is going to be an issue. I mean, I've heard two different reports. One, it was heavily fogged in early in the day, some flights were being cancelled. I've heard later that it was not quite as heavy, that there was over a mile visibility.

But, certainly, when it comes to helicopters flying at a lower altitude, you're going to look at weather very carefully.


BLITZER: And the NTSB report, it'll take months until we get the final report, right?

GOELZ: Yes. Since it will take a year to get the full report, they'll issue a preliminary report within 30 days that will give us I think a pretty good picture where the investigation is going.

BLITZER: Peter Goelz, thank you very much for coming in. Always appreciate your expertise.

Coming up, we're going to have much more on our tragic breaking news in the death of the NBA legend, Kobe Bryant. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: Fans of Kobe Bryant are gathering outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, it's a place where Kobe Bryant had some of his greatest down the court achievements, including five NBA championships with the Lakers.


CNN Correspondent Paul Vercammen is outside Staples Center for us. He's joining us right now. Paul, set the scene for us because there are a lot of sad fans over there right now.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are heartbroken, they're here outside Staples, the Grammys across the street. They've been breaking into chants of Kobe Bryant, MVP.

And look at this family behind me. Liz (ph) and family have showed up, all of them, in Kobe Bryant gear. And Liz, why? What did Kobe mean to you that you would come out in your regalia?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Kobe Bryant represented my whole life since I was eight-years-old. And, you know, up until he retired, he's been the Laker logo, the Laker person. And more as a the logo as a human, you know, seeing all the things he went through with his wife, you know, with the whole infidelity thing, you know, seeing him rise with all his championships and all that, I just saw the human in him, not only the player, you know.

I believe that he was a good man and it was such a tragic loss. You know, my husband and I, he knows all the stats, he knows -- like everything. Me, I saw him as a man, the man, you know, the human.

VERCAMMEN: We super appreciate your time out. Many such sentiments being expressed here. And also the Laker nation if you will, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar like Kobe Bryant, five NBA championships in that Laker jersey, six overall for Kareem. And Kareem had this to say about the Lakers' now fallen superstar.


KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER: 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 athletes. Kobe, my thoughts are with you, absolutely. Rest in peace, young man. This loss is just hard to comprehend.


VERCAMMEN: And let me sum up some of the many tweets that have been flooding in. Former President Barack Obama, "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act." And again, I'll just sum up these tweets, many of them quite lengthy. His teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, of course, Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal winning three straight NBA championships. "Kobe was so much more than an athlete. He was a family man. That was what we had most in common. We love our families. Whenever we got together I would hug his children like they were my own."

And don't forget for a moment that Kobe and Shaq were once said to be at tremendous odds on the Lakers. And then the legend himself, Michael Jordan, "I'm 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."

And now outside Staples, you can hear the chants of MVP. The fans thinking about Kobe Bryant and every treasured memory they have for him. Los Angeles is heartsick but they're celebrating Kobe as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Not only in Los Angeles but all over the country indeed and so much of the world. Paul Vercammen, thank you very much for that report. We're going to have much more ahead on the breaking news. Up next, we'll talk to someone who interviewed Kobe Bryant very recently about life after basketball and his legendary career.



BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures right now outside of the Los Angeles Staples Center, that's the home of the Los Angeles Lakers where Kobe Bryant played for some 20 seasons. Tragically, very sadly, he died today in a helicopter crash together with his 13-year-old daughter and eight other people, dead at the age, unfortunately, at only 41-years-old.

I want to bring in Ernie Johnson right now. He's the host of "Inside the NBA on TNT", our sister network. Ernie, so sad, I don't know what you can tell us. But you covered Kobe Bryant for so many years, what went through your mind when you heard this horrific news?

ERNIE JOHNSON, HOST, "INSIDE THE NBA ON TNT": Wolf, it was -- I mean, I still don't believe it.

BLITZER: Yes, me too.

JOHNSON: I was -- I had been in North Carolina this morning speaking and was driving home just listening to music as I was driving and my son called, and Eric told me, have you heard the news. And I said, what are you talking about? He told me, and I don't believe it.

And I -- and the thing, Wolf, that hits me hardest is just how a family is shattered. It's just incomprehensible. And again, as I continued to drive and I switched the radio to the NBA station and heard them talking about it and it's just incredible. Then I called Kenny and I called Charles and I called Shaq, and it was pretty much the same kind of thing, just this stunned reality that this had happened.


And look, Wolf, I wish I had magic words or I could say something to make it better or add something profound, but I don't. I'm just at a loss and all of us are. And to see it at the age of 41 and a guy with so much going for him not just talking about basketball skills, I'm just saying, this guy gets it, and had wonderful plans for his family and his daughters. And that's just very tough.

BLITZER: Because, you know, you knew him and you knew him well. You reported on him, you covered him, you got to know him. I met him on a few occasions over the years. What impressed me so much was, yes, he was one of the greatest basketball players ever, one of the greatest athletes ever. But he was such a nice human being, such a nice person, a truly wonderful man. And I want you to speak a little bit about that, Ernie.

JOHNSON: The thing that always stuck out to me about Kobe was not just his ability to play the game but his ability to think the game. And when he had announced his retirement and he was playing his last season, the Lakers came through Atlanta, and we arranged to do a sit- down at the team hotel, and we talked about, you know, who was the toughest guy, who gave you the toughest time defensively, was there a Kobe stopper and that kind of thing. But also what we just talked about the mental aspect of the game, and he said to be a success in this league you have to understand human nature. As he put it to me that day, he said, look, you can execute on the floor until the cows come home but unless you know what makes a player tick you're never going to win a championship.

And you don't hear talk like that very often from athletes. It was really deep and it was very insightful and it just gave you a glimpsed into the kind of person that Kobe Bryant was when he took the floor. Everybody wants to win out there, Wolf. But those that had the success that Kobe had take it to that next level somehow mentally. And he was able to do that and drive himself to always be better.

And he was the captain of that team when -- just to go back, in fact, just 10 years ago, OK, remember the Lakers, we had the western conference finals on TNT. Lakers win the western conference finals, I'm doing the trophy presentation. And on that Laker team is Ron Artest who was for the first time in his life going to go to the NBA finals. And so as I stood there in a commercial break and I'm ready to do this interview, I was looking for Ron behind all these players as I was standing next to Kobe because he was going to be the guy I talked to first, and I said where's Ron. And Kobe said what do you want Ron for? I said he's going to the finals for the first time. And I said I'd love to talk to him about that.

And Kobe knowing what Ron was apt to say from time to time said, no, you're not doing that.

I said, come on, Kobe. I said the guy is going to the finals for the first time. He said, no. I looked to Phil Jackson, I said, Phil, come on. He says, that's the captain.

And so the only guy I'll talked to there was Kobe Bryant. And that told you the sway he held there, the respect he had there on that Laker team and he was going to do what he viewed as the best for that organization and for that team at that moment, and that was he would be the spokesperson. And didn't want anything to go up on anybody's bulletin board or anything else. He was going to be the spokesman that day.

BLITZER: You know, I think I speak for a lot of fans out there. I'm a season ticket holder for the Washington Wizards, our hometown team here in the nation's capital. And whenever over these many years the Lakers would come to town and we knew Kobe Bryant would be playing, not just me but 20,000 fans would come to a game, would got so excited, we just took a look at Kobe Bryant playing right here. And I'm sure it was going on all over the country at every stadium where he showed up. And if he played internationally in an Olympic game or whatever, the same thing was going on. But talk a little bit about what he meant for the NBA fans. JOHNSON: I think he had the ability, Wolf. And not that many players have, there were a few who do. That you can feel the electricity in the building and buzz from the fans when he touches the ball. You know, Michael Jordan had that. Kobe Bryant had that.


There were certain superstars who have that effect because you're just waiting to see what he's going to come up with next. I remember before Kobe came in the league, I would watch some of these great showdowns between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan, and I'd seen Michael make some moves in the course of a game and you've seen him where you said, man, how does anybody do that. We'll never see that again.

When Kobe Bryant came into the league, you saw that all the time. And he had Michael as a role model. A guy to look at and say that's the level I want to be at. And so he gave you those same kinds of highlights on a nightly basis. And, again -- and you can look at players like -- look, my buddy Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Russell Westbrook, Michael, Kobe, and here's what you know for sure is that if you're going to pay money to go to a game in which those guys are playing, you're not going to get cheated. They are going to give you absolutely everything. Like with Charles, you knew you were going to be entertained. You knew he might go for 20 points and 20 rebounds, but he also might tackle the mascot and make your son and daughter laugh.

With Allen Iverson, you knew that he wasn't going to leave anything in the tank. Same with a guy like Westbrook, MJ, Kobe, same deal. Driven to win, driven to excel, and blessed with God-given abilities that were just jaw dropping.

BLITZER: I'll see you in a couple weeks or so at the NBA all-star weekend -- all-star game weekend in Chicago, Ernie, and, you know, I asked Kenny Smith this but it's going to have -- the death of Kobe Bryant will have an impact on that weekend.

JOHNSON: That, and, Wolf, to lose David Stern and Kobe Bryant --

BLITZER: Yes, the long time NBA commissioner.

JOHNSON: Yes. In this span of time -- no, it's going to have a very different feel in Chicago. And, you know, it's one of these things, too -- you know, I've been watching the coverage and then, you know, I look at it social media and seeing -- I mean, it's just heartbreaking, Wolf, to see the players around the league and how they are just empty. Nobody can believe what's happened, and I don't know how those guys who are playing today are playing unless they are simply driven by -- look, this one is for Kobe.


JOHNSON: Because he had that -- he had such an impact on all those players coming up who would watch him, and those who had the chance to play against him. And now to see an all-star weekend, and I'm -- we were just talking about him the other day when we were announcing the starters on our show the other night. Because Lebron is voted a starter again, and I said, well, that breaks a time for the all-time most with Kobe Bryant. And then Kobe Bryant last night passed for third on the all time scoring list by Lebron James.

So he's out of the game but very much still in the game because he was so great. And hardly a night goes by where you don't bring him up for some reason, you know? You know, that this player now joins Kobe, and this player and this player in doing this or that in an NBA game.

So to go to Chicago where we celebrate this game and how much fun it is, that's going to have a different feel. And one of those things that I saw on Twitter was somebody had posted draft night '96. I was working with Hubie Brown and Rick Pitino on that show, and it had our description of they're ready with the next pick, and here's David Stern announcing that Charlotte is drafting Kobe Bryant. And that took me back, but it just seems like a blink. It just seems like that just happened.

We were just announcing Kobe Bryant was coming into the league. And now here we are on this day shaking our heads and praying for his family in the wake of something that we just can't come to grips with.

BLITZER: Yes. You make an important point. We lost in the last few weeks David Stern, the long-time commissioner of the NBA, now Kobe Bryant. When you host what is one of the most special parts of that NBA all-star game weekend in Chicago this year, the NBA legend's brunch, it's going to take on a whole new impact as a result of these two losses that all of us have been going through over this, you know, today and over the past few weeks.


As usual, Ernie, you're a great man. Thank you so much for joining us. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago.

He would want the players to play. He would want the all-star game to go on. That's his nature. You knew him a lot better than I did, but I'm sure he's watching and he's happy that the game continues, because that was so important to him. Ernie Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: And prayers for his family, too. I just can't even begin to think what they're going through. Thank you for having me on.

BLITZER: Our deepest condolences to his wife and the kids and the whole family and his friends and may he rest in peace. And as we say, may his memory be a blessing. We'll be right back.