On Sunday, the NBA legend, 41, and Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash while on their way to a youth basketball game in Thousand Oaks with parents and players from the Mamba Sports Academy girls’ team.
The tragic news quickly sent shockwaves across the world — especially in the basketball community.
“It’s just been total sadness,” an NBA source tells PEOPLE. “It’s sadness for his family, it’s sadness for basketball and then there’s sadness for women’s basketball.”
Kobe — who called himself a “girl dad” because of his love for his daughters and passion to watch them succeed, especially in sports — played a huge role in Gianna’s budding career and women’s basketball as a whole, which the source says brought people “a lot of excitement” as to what “Kobe was doing in that arena.”
“I think that there was a bright future for the game because he was going to be so involved. Some of the discussions that we’re having is that there’s a challenge for some of our other great NBA players to accept that role and jump in where he left off,” the source adds.
Derrick Stafford, a retired NBA referee who officiated Kobe more than 60 times throughout his career, tells PEOPLE that while “death is inevitable … for [Kobe] to leave so soon after he retired, that’s the factor that’s affecting everybody.”
“That and seeing him as a father,” Stafford says, explaining that he would see his daughters at games as they got older.
As for the NBA community, “Everyone’s hoping this brings people together,” says Stafford. “People are talking about action now, because whenever you think of Kobe, you always think of action.”
Kobe was drafted into the NBA straight out of high school. During his two decades with the Lakers, he went on to become an 18-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA team and 12-time All-Defensive team member. In 2008, he was named NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
After losing the 2008 NBA Finals, Kobe helped lead the Lakers to championships in both 2009 and 2010, earning him the Finals MVP award. At the age of 34, Kobe suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Though he recovered, he later suffered career-ending injuries to his knee and shoulder, and retired after the 2015-2016 season.
Following news of the accident NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying “the NBA family is devastated,” adding that “he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
The former athlete is survived by his wife Vanessa, 37, and their daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.