Nine people were killed in a helicopter crash including Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Los Angeles officials confirmed on Sunday.
Basketball is arguably the most popular sport in China, and Bryant — a five-time NBA champion who blogged for Chinese internet giant SINA in 2009 — was among the first American stars to garner a large fan base in the country.
He remained popular in China after his retirement in 2016, frequently engaging via social media with Chinese fans.
Despite China’s preoccupation with a viral epidemic crisis, the hashtag “Kobe passed away” was viewed more than 1.2 billion times on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo, and sparked more than a million posts within hours of the news.
“Kobe is not a basketball star. He is my life coach,” said one post.
“This is fake, fake, I can’t believe it,” said another.