LOS ANGELES — The Southern California sports academy previously co-owned by the late Kobe Bryant has retired his “Mamba” nickname and rebranded itself nearly four months after the basketball icon’s death in a helicopter crash.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed as they flew to a basketball tournament Jan. 26 at the Mamba Sports Academy when the chopper crashed in thick fog northwest of Los Angeles.
The Thousand Oaks-based facility announced Tuesday it would return to its original name of Sports Academy and retire the “Mamba” name to the rafters. The academy was founded in 2016; Bryant, who spent 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped the franchise win five NBA championships, joined in 2018.
Games were being played at the academy when the news broke of Bryant’s death. Players immediately stopped and many people in the gym burst into tears when told that Bryant was aboard the helicopter that crashed.
The academy is under consideration as a home base for the G League’s new select program, which is scheduled to begin in the fall. The program will serve as a one-year prepping, both on and off the court, for certain elite players who chose to bypass college but are not yet eligible for the NBA draft.
Bryant is the only NBA player to have his team retire two numbers in his honor. He was selected last month for enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a ceremony that is still scheduled for late August though may be delayed until at least October because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was chosen in his first year of eligibility, along with fellow longtime NBA greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
Bryant’s production company, Granity Studios, has remained active since his death. The latest children’s book released by Bryant’s company last month – “The Wizenard Series: Season One” – became his fifth book to reach No. 1 on The New York Times’ best-seller lists.
The helicopter crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Also killed were pilot Ara Zobayan, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; Christina Mauser, who helped Bryant coach the girls’ basketball team; and Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton. Alyssa and Payton were Gianna’s teammates.
On Friday, Zobayan’s brother said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, in February sued Zobayan’s estate and the charter company that owned the helicopter, Island Express. She claimed Zobayan failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and negligence.
Vanessa Bryant also last week filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after deputies allegedly shared unauthorized photos of the crash site. The claim was first reported by PEOPLE; the investigation into the deputies’ photos was initially published by The Los Angeles Times.