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'One of the game's all-time greats' -- Maine natives who knew Kobe Bryant mourn his death

South Portland native Brett Brown and Island Falls native Steve Clifford both had personal connections to Kobe Bryant during their time with the NBA.

MAINE, USA — A deadly helicopter crash in Southern California shocked sports fans around the nation on Sunday when they learned that retired National Basketball Association superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter were two of the victims.

At least five people were on board when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. There were no survivors. 

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Two men originally from Maine -- Brett Brown and Steve Clifford -- had close connections to Bryant, who played all 20 years of his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers and helped them win five NBA championships. 

Brett Brown is originally from South Portland and is the current head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. Bryant is from Philadelphia, and his father, Joe Bryant, once played for the 76ers.

In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine, Brown wrote:

“It is difficult to find words to express the passing of Kobe Bryant.

I had the privilege of coaching teams that competed against Kobe for 15 out of my 20 years in the NBA . While coaching in the 2012 London Olympic games, Kobe and his USA teammates beat our Australia Boomers in the quarter finals to eventually win Gold. I was fortunate to be with Pop and the Spurs staff where we coached Kobe in both the 2005 and 2011 NBA All Star Games. Simply, my memories of him are deep and one of tremendous respect.

In my 3rd season as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe played his final game in Philadelphia. After the game, Kobe visited with me for 45 minutes after the game. To sit alone with him in my office and listen to him share his memories of his storied career and upbringing in Philadelphia is an unforgettable memory. He talked passionately about growing up in Philly. The legacy that he started many years ago at Lower Merion High School continues on with this storied program and coach Gregg Downer.

What I remember most was his clear excitement for the new challenges that awaited him and the genuine love he had for his family who he could spend more time with. Kobe will be remembered as a maniacal competitor, a tireless worker, and incredible leader. One of the game's all-time greats. Our 76er team morns his tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.” 

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Clifford was born in Island Falls, Maine in 1961. He served as an assistant coach for Mike D'Antoni on the Lakers during the 2012-13 season. That's when he worked closely with Bryant. Clifford is now head coach of the Orlando Magic.

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Clifford for comment Sunday afternoon but has not yet heard back. 

A professional basketball player not in the NBA but with Maine ties also offered his condolences on Sunday.

"Kobe had a presence that was unexplainable. He created a type of awe on the court that I found myself just standing there watching when I was supposed to be playing," Nik Caner-Medley told NEWS CENTER Maine. "The shock of his death is unexplainable as well, but I know his legend will live on through the impact he has had on so many peoples lives, directly and indirectly."

Nik Caner-Medley once played basketball at Deering High School in Maine. He reportedly played against Kobe in 2002 at Rucker Park in New York and had to cover him.

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