For the first time since the helicopter crash that killed nine people, including his friend and former teammate, Rick Fox addressed the erroneous report that he was one of the passengers with Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
Shortly after news broke Sunday that Bryant died in Calabasas, California, reports circulated that Fox, a teammate from 1997 to 2004, was also on board.
Fox spoke of that time frame in an emotional moment on an “Inside the NBA” special Tuesday night that gave the reality that unconfirmed reporting has on human lives.
“My family went through, in the midst of all this, something that I couldn’t have imagined them experiencing,” Fox said on the show. “One of my daughter’s greatest fears is finding out that a parent, one of her parents, [has died] through social media instead of from a loved one or a family member.”
Fox, who won NBA championships with the Lakers and Bryant from 2000 to 2002, said he spoke with his children for “about 45 minutes” after the news of Bryant’s death broke. During that time, he had no idea people were reporting he was on board.
Initial reports said five people were dead in the crash and it wasn’t until later in the day that officials confirmed nine were dead and families began releasing names. Along with Bryant, 41, were his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; assistant coach Christina Mauser; John and Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
Fox said on “Inside the NBA” he ignored phone calls and texts while he spent time with his family in the difficult moment. When he noticed his best friend, Monmouth University head coach King Rice, continuously calling him he decided to answer.
“I’m seeing King’s number repeatedly going and going and going, and I think he’s worried about me, so I said, ‘I’m gonna talk to my best friend.’ So I answered and said, ‘Hey man, this is crazy about Kobe,’ and he just was bawling and I started crying. And he was like, ‘You’re alive!’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah. What do you mean?’”
Fox said at that moment his mother, sister and brother started calling him. Jared Greenberg of NBA TV confirmed via Twitter that Fox was not on board and Fox’s step-daughter, Jillian Hervey, also put a stop to the reporting.
“This has been a lot to process for all of us. Quite frankly, we’re blessed to have had the time we had with Kobe. A city is mourning, a family is mourning, we’re all mourning. And I’m — I don’t, I’m glad [the rumor] is over with, but it was hard to deal with because it shook a lot of people in my life.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva declined to identify those involved in the crash when making officials’ first statements Sunday evening and appeared to criticize reporting of the accident.
“There is wide speculation who the identities are. However it is entirely inappropriate right now to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identification through their very deliberative process and they have made notifications to next of kin,” Villanueva said.
“It would be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved ones perished and you learned about it from TMZ,” he added. “That is just wholly inappropriate. So we’re not going to be going there.”
The coroner’s office didn’t begin identifying and releasing the individuals names until Tuesday night after all nine bodies were recovered from the crash site.
Fox, 50, remained close with Bryant after retiring in 2004. He was part of the “Inside the NBA” special filmed on the floor of Staples Center with Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson. Dwyane Wade and Derek Fisher also made appearances.
The Lakers were scheduled to play the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night, but the game was postponed while the organizations mourn.
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