Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The winner of five NBA championships, Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-season career with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Israeli basketball stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant

'He's a shining light that has been extinguished,' coach David Blatt said of Bryant, whose death has left the world in mourning.

The sudden and tragic passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant has sent shockwaves around the world. The native Philadelphian was more than just an NBA player, but a global superstar – with fans mourning his loss around the world. Bryant and his daughter Gianna were killed along with seven other passengers when their helicopter crashed in southern California.

In Israel, a country long obsessed with basketball, news of the crash arrived in the middle of a professional game between two teams – Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv – as thousands of fans collectively heard the news in the arena. Amar'e Stoudemire, a power forward who played against Bryant in the NBA, now plays in Israel. Standing on the court, the 37-year-old was stunned when told of the news.

“I don’t know what to say, man,” Stoudemire said. “I’m shocked, bro. I don’t know what to say. I have no idea what to even think. Feels unreal. I don’t even want to believe it.” Later in the locker room, after Stoudemire had time to collect his thoughts, he continued: "This is a big loss. My family is crying right now."

The fans at the game in Tel Aviv took a moment to mourn the loss and broke out into a chant of "Kobe Bryant!"

Israeli-American David Blatt, who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, had a front-row seat to the superstar when his team played against the Los Angeles Lakers. "It's a sad day for the world of sport and the basketball community," Blatt told From The Grapevine. "And a sad day for all the people who followed and respected Kobe's commitment to excellence in all that he did. He's a shining light that has been extinguished, but his example and legend lives on."

The current coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Giannis Sfairopoulos, was equally retrospective. "We are all in shock," he said. "Unfortunately, life is very priceless and we need to be very thankful for each one of us ... for our lives." He concluded with a quote that he said Kobe would invoke often: "Heroes come and go, but legends are forever."

Quincy Acy, who plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv, said what he would most remember about Bryant was how he "approached the game of basketball. This game of basketball has done a lot for a lot of people and he approached it with the respect and the tenacity that is unmatched. Everybody can say that they learned something from Kobe." Israeli Omri Casspi, a former NBA star who often played against Bryant in the league's Western Conference, simply added that he was "speechless."

Bryant, whose father played professional basketball in Italy, spent seven years as a child living in the Mediterranean. It was there where he first learned the fundamentals of the game. Stefano Bonaccini is the current governor of the Italian region where Bryant grew up. “Kobe Bryant is gone,” Bonaccini posted on Facebook. He was “a great champion and a great person, attached to our land, just like our land was attached to him.”

The National Safety and Transportation Board is investigating the accident that downed Bryant's helicopter in Calabasas, Calif. Meanwhile, several memorial services are in the works, with tributes expected at sporting events like the Super Bowl this Sunday and at the Academy Awards next month. Bryant won an Oscar for Best Animated Short at last year's event for "Dear Basketball," based on a poem he penned upon announcing his retirement. "My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind," he wrote. "But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye."

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Israeli basketball stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant
'He's a shining light that has been extinguished,' coach David Blatt said of Bryant, whose death has left the world in mourning.