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Kobe Bryant dead: Nike, BodyArmor mourn NBA legend

Thomas Barrabi

Major U.S. companies, including sportswear giant Nike, mourned the loss of their longtime partner Kobe Bryant on Sunday following the NBA legend's death in a helicopter in Southern California.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among at least five people who died in the helicopter crash, according to multiple reports. Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash.

"Along with millions of athletes and fans throughout the world, we are devastated by today’s tragic news," Nike said in a statement. "We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to Kobe, especially his family and friends. He was one of the greatest athletes of his generation and has had an immeasurable impact on the world of sport and the community of basketball. He was a beloved member of the Nike family. We will miss him greatly. Mamba forever."

KOBE BRYANT, DAUGHTER DEAD IN HELICOPTER CRASH

Bryant signed with Nike in 2003 and became one of the company's most prominent athlete ambassadors. Nike paid the five-time NBA champion $16 million per year as part of its endorsement deal and continued to release signature sneakers for the "Black Mamba" long after his retirement in 2016.

Long considered one of the most marketable athletes in the world, Bryant had earned more than $350 million from endorsement deals at the time of his retirement, according to Forbes. Once retired, Bryant largely eschewed traditional endorsement deals in favor of investments.

Bryant was among the largest stakeholders in BodyArmor, an upstart sports drink brand challenging Gatorade's dominance of the market. He served as the creative voice behind the company's early national marketing efforts.

His initial $6 million investment in BodyArmor was worth an estimated $200 million once Coca-Cola acquired a significant stake in the brand in 2018.

"Words cannot express the heartbreak we feel right now. Kobe Bryant was more than a legend to us," BodyArmor said in a statement. "He was an incredible friend to the entire BodyArmor team and a devoted family man and father. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kobe’s family and everyone affected by this tragedy."

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Bryant partnered with entrepreneur Jeff Stibel to launch a venture capital fund, Bryant Stibel. The firm has funded prominent startups, including "Fortnite" creator Epic Games and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

The Lakers star also achieved acclaim through his media production company, Granity Studios. Bryant won an Academy Award for his animated short film "Dear Basketball" in 2018.

“The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna," Commissioner Adam Silver. "For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning."

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Bryant retired with more than $300 million in career earnings from salary. An 18-time NBA All-Star, Bryant won the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008.

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