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Bryant tragedy looms over Super Bowl launch night

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Miami (AFP)

The death of NBA icon Kobe Bryant loomed over the build-up to the Super Bowl here Monday as Kansas City Chiefs players paid tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers legend.

One day after Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, the build-up to Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami cranked into gear.

Both the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers teams were due to be presented before thousands of journalists and fans in the now circus-like "opening night" event that formally kicks off Super Bowl week.

But the festivities at Marlins Park began on a somber note, with a moment's silence observed as a giant screen displayed a photo of Bryant.

Chants of "Kobe! Kobe!" rang out towards the end of the brief pause before numerous members of the Chiefs roster shared their memories of the five-time NBA champion.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said although he had never met Bryant, he continued to be inspired by his famously ferocious competitive spirit.

"I wasn't lucky enough to meet Kobe but the impact he made in my life was huge," the 24-year-old told reporters.

"The work ethic, that intensity that he had to be great every single day.

"Even to this day, I still watch videos on YouTube the day before games, just listening to him talk, how he puts everything into perspective being great on and off the court."

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who had met Bryant, described the fallen NBA star as an "unbelievable person."

"You can't say enough about who he was and his impact," Kelce said. "I just feel bad for the Bryant family, everybody involved. My heart's with you and everyone here in America."

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu admitted he was still struggling to comprehend news of Bryant's death.

"Shocked and sad," Mathieu said. "I thought guys like him lived forever."

Bryant's death hit home for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the respected NFL veteran who grew up in Los Angeles.

Reid had also become acquainted with Bryant during his long association with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant was born in Philadelphia.

"It's sad," Reid said. "I knew Kobe from Philly, and he was a great person. I feel bad for his family, sick for his family.

"They'll rebound. They're strong. They'll live up to his strength."

Defensive end Chris Jones, meanwhile, said the tragedy had underscored the fragility of life.

"Anybody close to anyone on that helicopter lost someone yesterday that was important to them," Jones said. "It just shows you how precious life is.

"As soon as I heard the news I had to call my kids to tell them I love them, because we take those opportunities for granted."

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