Wayne Slappy, 67, Kobe Bryant’s former coach and close family friend, revealed the moment he learned of the tragic death of the NBA star and his daughter
Kobe Bryant’s former coach and best friend of his father, Wayne Slappy, says the NBA star’s family are struggling to deal with a ‘black hole’ left by his death.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, the Bryant family friend revealed the moment he heard the Lakers legend had died in a helicopter crash north of Los Angeles on Sunday morning.
‘I was just finishing training kids up in the Pacific Palisades,’ Slappy said. ‘When I got in the car I got the text message. Then I started getting phone call after phone call. I tried to call Jellybean [Kobe’s father Joe Bryant], he didn’t answer, and that doesn’t happen.
‘I just sat in the parking lot at Costco crying for an hour.’
Speaking just hours after the crash which killed the 41-year-old father of four, his daughter Gigi and seven others, Slappy said he was struggling to keep his composure.
‘I don’t know how I’m going to get over this myself,’ he said. ‘I’m raw.’
The 67-year-old basketball coach, who has been close friends with Kobe’s father for decades, added that the NBA legend’s family have been left feeling empty.
‘Can you imagine a black hole? It’s empty, how do you fill it? They’re a close-knit family. He was 41 years old, and then his daughter dies in an accident with him too,’ he said.
‘His family are going to miss him more than you can begin to imagine.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (pictured together in December) and seven others were killed when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman confirmed their Air Support Division was grounded, adding: ‘The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying’
Slappy is best friends with Kobe’s father Joe Bryant (pictured with Kobe in 2010) and said the distraught dad didn’t answer the phone – which is unlike him – after the news of the tragedy broke
Kobe Bryant leaves behind wife Vanessa, daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and seven-month-old Capri
‘I know NBA players whose kids can’t stand them, they never spent any time with them. That ain’t Kobe. He grew up with his family loving each other. He was doing the same thing his father did for him, for his daughters, to the best of his ability.
Kobe is survived by his sisters Sharia and Shaya Bryant
‘Plus all the other things he was trying to do to occupy his great intelligence, his ability to speak and express himself and create images that were going to help people. His understanding of basketball’s importance was bigger than just basketball.
‘He was very intelligent, Spanish and Italian. He could talk to you about any subject and have a conversation that was intelligent about it.’
Kobe leaves behind wife Vanessa, daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, seven-month-old Capri, and his parents and sisters Sharia and Shaya.
Slappy said despite deep divisions between Kobe and his parents earlier in the former Lakers star’s life, their family bond remained strong, and his late daughter Gigi was close with her grandfather Joe, affectionately nicknamed Jellybean by his friends.
‘I remember after one Lakers game. Jellybean had been in Japan coaching. He had just come back. As soon as she saw him, Gigi ran over and grabbed him. You should have seen her eyes when she saw him. It’s those moments when you know love is in that family,’ Slappy said.
‘I’m sure she wanted to try to be similar to her dad in his greatness, in some way.’
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the helicopter was a Sikorsky S-76. A body is covered, left, while another sits at right at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant Sunday
The smoking wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on a California hillside on Sunday morning, killing all nine people on board including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna
A map showing where the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant took off and crashed in the Los Angeles area on Sunday morning
He also described how Kobe hugged his father at a recent basketball camp in Santa Barbara, suggesting the family had reconciled some of their past disputes.
‘I just remember being with him up at his camp in Santa Barbara, and seeing him hug his dad. You know how they loved each other from how they looked at each other, how they smiled,’ he said.
‘Everybody’s family has issues, disagreements here and there. The healing comes, but this healing is going to be hard because he’s not here.’
The 67-year-old’s voice broke as he added: ‘Kobe was starting to look so much more like him as he was getting older.’
Slappy said one of Kobe’s defining features was his focus, dedication to basketball, and determination to win – while he was best summed up by his father’s description of him: ‘a basketball nerd’.
‘He was an inspiration that led by example. He wouldn’t leave the gym before he made a thousand shots. Not took a thousand, made a thousand. Think about that,’ said the New Jersey-born coach, who teaches basketball in Los Angeles and Orange County.
Bryant was widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. The Philadelphia native was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft and spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP titles and 18 All-Star titles before retiring in 2016
‘I remember teammates of his talking about his work ethic. They were on an away trip, they had a game the next day. The team mate wanted to go out for a little while, the game wasn’t going to be until night time. He walks downstairs, past the gym in the hotel and Kobe was in there lifting. He said ”what are you doing man? We’ve got a game tomorrow.” That’s Kobe.
‘He was intense, no question about it. Competitive too. He’d compete in anything. If there was a chewing gum competition he’d outchew you. He was a consummate competitor, that’s why he became so great.’
‘Kobe was an inimitable human being,’ Slappy added. ‘When I saw him get hurt, playing with a bad hand. He said ‘I’ll just shoot with my left.’ How many people can do that? That takes unbelievable practice, and to do that in an NBA game? I mean come on man.’