• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Japanese sports stars paid tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Monday after he was killed along with his teenage daughter in a helicopter crash.

The 41-year-old, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout a glittering career spanning two decades, died after the private aircraft came down in California on Sunday morning, according to U.S. media reports.

Yuta Watanabe, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA, and former Samurai Blue star Keisuke Honda, were among those from the Japanese sporting world to pay tribute on social media.

Yudai Baba, who plays for the Texas Legends, the minor league affiliate of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, tweeted, “I don’t know what’s happened I can’t believe it…It’s impossible to believe.”

Honda, one of Japan’s most recognizable sports stars, tweeted, “This has brought home to me how fragile and ephemeral human life is.

“People say that your outlook on life changes when someone close to you dies. That I feel that way about Kobe’s death is proof that he was so great.”

Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 but was immediately traded to the Lakers. The 18-time NBA All-Star won five championships during a 20-year career spent entirely in Los Angeles.

Bryant’s parents named their son after the famous wagyu beef from Kobe, the capital of Hyogo Prefecture in central Japan.

The legendary shooting guard became an ambassador to the city in 2001, three years after he visited Kobe to offer a donation toward relief for the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated the region in 1995.

“Kobe Bryant was an ambassador for Kobe from 2001-2011,” tweeted Kobe’s English-language promotional account on Monday. “He also encouraged and supported us when our city was hit by the 1995 earthquake. Thank you for everything.”

Kobe Mayor Kizo Hisamoto termed Bryant a global superstar and someone special to the city’s residents, adding, “He introduced the appeals of Kobe to people worldwide.”

The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association offered its condolences and expressed gratitude to Bryant on Monday for helping their marbled beef gain worldwide recognition.

“We are shocked and saddened to hear of his sudden death and would like to offer our condolences,” Tetsunori Tanimoto, secretary general of the association was quoted as saying by the Kobe Shimbun newspaper.

“(Bryant) starred in the NBA and the Olympics and we are very grateful that he helped spread the name ‘Kobe beef’ the world over.”

Kobe’s father, Joe Bryant, was also a former NBA player and went on to coach several teams in Japan’s professional leagues and the ASEAN Basketball League.

B. League clubs, players pay respects

As news of Bryant’s death reached Japan on Monday morning, several clubs in the B. League published condolences.

“We honor and thank a great player who was such a big influence on the sport and enchanted basketball fans around the world,” wrote the Levanga Hokkaido, while the Yokohama B-Corsairs described Bryant as “An immortal hero.”

Levanga general manager and former player Jun Nakanishi tweeted: “There are truly no words, I don’t want to believe it. This is the saddest day for the basketball world.”

A tweet from the second-division Koshigaya Alphas emphasized the extent to which Bryant’s influence crossed the Pacific.

“Everyone wanted to be him. Everyone tried to imitate him, but nobody could. Thank you, from all of our players,” the Saitama Prefecture club wrote.

“He was my No. 1 favorite player, the No. 1 player I admired, the No. 1 coolest player,” wrote Alvark Tokyo shooting guard Daiki Tanaka on Instagram.

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