Turks mourn for basketball legend Kobe Bryant: “Now it is our turn to show solidarity with his family”

It’s only the first month of 2020, but we have another tragedy to add to others we’ve already witnessed this month, including the devastating bush fires in Australia, the deaths of 176 people on board a civilian Ukrainian plane that was inadvertently bombed in Iran, and the deadly earthquake in Elazığ, eastern Turkey.

On Sunday, the world was in shock as news broke that one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, Kobe Bryant, had been killed in a helicopter crash. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, the pilot, and six others aboard the helicopter died when it crashed in a field in Calabasas, California, around 10 a.m. local time.

Turks joined the global outpouring of grief, mourning for the unexpected loss of a basketball legend, who was aged just 41.

Among those sending their condolences were the families of Soma mine workers, who lost their lives in a terrible mining accident in 2014. Back then, Bryant tweeted “My thoughts and prayers continue to be with those affected in the mining disaster in Soma”.

After learning of his death, the families came together to pay their respects to the American star. Ergül Yüksel, wife of one of the deceased workers, Ali Yüksel, said they were touched when he tweeted and showed solidarity: “Now it is our turn to show solidarity with his family”.

The LA Lakers player also endeared himself to Turks when he became a global brand ambassador of their flagship carrier Turkish Airlines. He appeared in a series of commercials alongside another sporting legend, footballer Lionel Messi, in 2013. In one ad, the two sports personalities vie for the attentions of a young boy, in another they battle for the best selfie as they jet around the world on Turkish Airlines seeing famous sites.

The selfie clip was declared “the advert of the decade” by YouTube after receiving 25 million views in the first three days after being uploaded.

Bryant also played Turkish drums (davul) on stage with Turkish popstar Kenan Doğulu at a gala event to herald Turkish Airlines’ first-ever flight to Los Angeles in 2011.

After his death, Turkish Airlines Press Advisor Yahya Üstün tweeted; “Basketball legend and Turkish Airlines’ brand ambassador on its journey to be a global brand, Kobe Bryant has passed away. We will never forget his matchless game and all his contributions to us”.

Bryant travelled to Turkey several times. In 2011, he visited Galatasaray’s stadium, wore their shirt and announced that he was a Galatasaray fan.

Recalling that moment, Galatasaray – one of Turkey’s biggest sports clubs – tweeted his photo and said ‘Rest in peace Kobe Bryant! Thanks so much for all your contributions to the basketball. We will miss you’.

Kobe Bryant – one of the all-time basketball greats

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Bryant played his entire 20-season career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the Los Angeles Lakers. He entered the NBA directly from high school and went on to win five NBA championships.

A shooting guard, Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, and the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he led the NBA in scoring during two seasons and ranks fourth on the league’s all-time regular season scoring.

In 2006, he scored a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points scored in a single game in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.

Known as the ‘Black Mamba’, he was fluent in three languages: English, Italian and Spanish.

In 2018, Bryant became the first African American to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and the first former professional athlete to be nominated and to win an Academy Award in any category for his film Dear Basketball.

He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri Kobe.