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Stunned Rory McIlroy leads tributes to Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash death

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Fans pay their respects at a memorial for Kobe near the Staples Center in Los Angeles

Fans pay their respects at a memorial for Kobe near the Staples Center in Los Angeles

AP

Kobe Bryant with daughter Gianna who both died in the tragedy

Kobe Bryant with daughter Gianna who both died in the tragedy

AP

Police at the scene of the crash

Police at the scene of the crash

AFP via Getty Images

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Fans pay their respects at a memorial for Kobe near the Staples Center in Los Angeles

Sports stars and personalities from Northern Ireland have been paying tribute to basketball legend Kobe Bryant after he was killed in a helicopter crash.

Former Los Angeles Lakers star Bryant (41) died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in the crash in southern California on Sunday morning.

Widely considered one of the best basketball players and one of the highest profile sporting figures in the US, Bryant's death was mourned around the world by figures such as President Donald Trump, his predecessor Barack Obama, rapper Kanye West and singer Alicia Keys, who paid tribute to him at the Grammys.

The annual music awards took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Bryant spent all 20 seasons of his NBA career playing for the Lakers as he made the all-star team 18 times.

Fans gathered outside the centre to pay tribute, leaving flowers and wreathes.

Golfer Rory McIlroy posted a photo of Bryant, who was nicknamed 'Black Mamba', on Twitter and said: "Devastated by the news of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the others who perished in the crash.

"The outpouring of mourning in the wake of this tragedy just shows how big Kobe's impact was on the world, not just the game of basketball. Mamba Forever."

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The Holywood golfer only heard the news after his final round at The Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and said he "grew up idolizing him".

Bryant was a regular helicopter user, often using his Sikorsky S-76 to travel from Newport Beach, California, to the Staples Center before games.

According to local witnesses visibility was poor with the hills above Calabasas covered in fog.

It was unclear whether the heavy cloud cover, about 1,000ft or so above the ground, played a role in the crash.

Belfast boxer Michael Conlon said Bryant's death was "heartbreaking stuff", while fellow boxer Sean McComb passed on his condolences.

Former Ulster and Ireland winger Tommy Bowe said he was shocked by the basketball superstar's death and described him as a "sporting icon".

Cool FM's Pete Snodden retweeted Bryant's Oscar winning short film 'Dear Basketball' and added: "Follow your dream, no one knows what tomorrow will bring."

Assistant coach of the Ireland basketball squad and PE teacher at Belfast's St Malachy's College, Adrian Fulton, said the school has links in Philadelphia and played against Bryant's high school team, Lower Merion, in September.

He described Bryant as a "terrific, terrific talent" and highlighted the longevity of his career in the NBA.

"He played for one team for 20 years and for a superstar to do that speaks volumes about him," he said.

"He was the third leading scorer of all time, he's now the fourth after LeBron James passed him at the weekend.

"He was very successful in what he did in terms of the number of championships he won and he took gold at the Olympics twice with the USA.

"Even my own kids were saying that they had never met him and didn't know him but they felt that they did.

"He was a global ambassador and a global icon in terms of basketball."

At the Grammys, Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers jersey was laid out on a chair in the background.

And during a joint performance, Run-DMC and Aerosmith held Bryant's 24 jersey aloft.

Host Alicia Keys said the ceremony was cloaked in sadness following the deaths.

"We're all feeling crazy sadness right now," she said. "Because earlier today Los Angeles, America, and the whole wide world lost a hero."

Keys, standing in the same arena where former Los Angeles Lakers star Bryant spent much of his glittering career, added: "We're literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built."

She said all the helicopter crash victims are "in our spirit, our hearts, they're in our prayers, they're in this building".

BBC apologises for James footage error

The BBC has apologised after mistakenly using footage of basketball player LeBron James in its coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant.

In its News at Ten programme, the BBC's segment on Bryant included footage of basketball superstar James, who also plays for the Lakers.

The broadcaster was heavily criticised for the error online.

One Twitter user said: "Who cut this? BBC news using footage of Lebron James instead of Kobe Bryant in their obit! It even says James on his shirt."

Another wrote: "Can you explain why you showed footage of LeBron James rather than Kobe on the BBC1 10pm news? Pathetic BBC!"

And another commented: "Absolute schoolboy error."

Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Six and Ten, apologised for the mistake and blamed "human error".


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