Kobe and Gianna Bryant never made it to their game. Those waiting for the NBA great then paid tribute powerfully

A heartbreaking photo on Sunday showed dozens of young athletes kneeling on a basketball court in tribute to Kobe Bryant, at the hoops star’s Mamba Sports Academy in California.

An emotional image, posted on Twitter by @_nightingaleee, shows grief-stricken basketball players in jerseys and others kneeling or sitting on the court, many with their heads bowed.

“The kids who were waiting for Kobe and Gigi in Mamba Academy,” wrote @_nightingaleee.

The legendary NBA player and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna had reportedly been on their way to a planned basketball game at the athletic facility in Thousand Oaks when their chopper crashed, killing them and seven other people on board.

Gianna was expected to play in the game, part of a tournament in the Mamba Cup Series, with Bryant acting as coach, Lady Mavericks team director Evelyn Morales, told CNN.

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Kobe Bryant fans grieved at a small memorial at the entrance of the Mamba Sports Academy. Picture: Richard Vogel

Kobe Bryant fans grieved at a small memorial at the entrance of the Mamba Sports Academy. Picture: Richard VogelSource: AP

All games that had been scheduled to take place at the training centre on Sunday were reportedly cancelled, in the aftermath of the tragic crash.

The retired Los Angeles Lakers star — who gave himself the nickname “Black Mamba” — co-founded the training facility for professional and amateur athletes in 2018.

For the last two years, Bryant, 41, had coached Gianna’s Amateur Athletic Union basketball team at the facility, according to a USA Today article on the academy published last week.

The image comes as all nine victims Sunday’s fiery California crash have now been identified by family and friends.

NBA star Kobe Bryant fans gather around a small memorial at the entrance of the Mamba Sports Academy. Picture: Richard Vogel

NBA star Kobe Bryant fans gather around a small memorial at the entrance of the Mamba Sports Academy. Picture: Richard VogelSource: AP

The pilot of the doomed helicopter, Ara Zobayan, was praised as the “sweetest” man who was “especially attentive” the basketball legend’s family.

Zobayan was an experienced flyer who “taught aspiring heli pilots to fly and was very much loved in the aviation community,” KTLA’s Christina Pascucci, who is also a licensed pilot, said on Twitter.

Mum Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton, were also on board, with the girl’s brother writing a heartbreaking tribute on Instagram alongside a photo of his lost loved ones.

“Rest In Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP,” Riley Chester wrote.

The other victims were girls’ basketball Christina Mauser, college baseball coach John Altobelli, his daughter Alyssa Altobelli and wife Keri Altobelli.

This article first appeared on the New York Post and has been republished with permission.

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