By James Matthey

With heavy hearts and teary eyes, the show went on.

As shocking news of NBA legend Kobe Bryant's death rocked the world, basketball players in the biggest league on the planet paid tribute to the man they called Black Mamba, taking to the court when it was no doubt the last thing they felt like doing.

Bryant, who became one of the NBA's most famous faces during an incredible 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Monday morning (NZT).

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One of his four daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, was one of those killed in the accident which local authorities say claimed the lives of nine people in total.

There was speculation the NBA would cancel all games today but players still hit the floor just hours after the tragedy.

Shareef O'Neal, the son of NBA legend and Bryant's longtime teammate Shaquille O'Neal, revealed on Twitter the final text he received from Bryant, who reached out to him before his helicopter crashed at around 10am local time.

Responding to Bryant asking how he was going, O'Neal updated his close friend and asked the same question — but he would never get a response.

"Literally this morning you reached out to me … I love you forever unc — I love you," O'Neal tweeted along with a screenshot of their texts.

The text message between Kobe Bryant and Shareef O'Neal. Photo / Twitter
The text message between Kobe Bryant and Shareef O'Neal. Photo / Twitter

The NBA community was united in its shock and paid tribute in a number of ways.

— There were moments of silence before tip-off to start today's games. After the solemn tribute in the Houston Rockets' clash against the Denver Nuggets, where stars were visibly shaken by Bryant's death, chants of "Ko-be" — an iconic refrain that erupted when the Lakers legend was on song — broke out.

— Teams let the 24-second shot clock expire on their first possessions to honour Bryant, who wore jersey No. 24 in the latter part of his career. The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs were the first teams to pay tribute to Bryant in that fashion and the trend quickly spread as it featured in games between the LA Clippers and Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies.

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— Trae Young, who normally wears No. 11 for the Atlanta Hawks, changed jerseys and wore No. 8 on his back for today's game against Washington. Bryant started his career wearing No. 8 and Young continued his tribute as the Hawks started the game with an eight-second backcourt violation.

The scene of the fatal crash that claimed the lives of nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant. Photo / Getty Images
The scene of the fatal crash that claimed the lives of nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant. Photo / Getty Images

— Nets star Kyrie Irving sat out his side's clash against the Knicks, too upset to play.

— Rockets stars Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers broke down in tears before tip-off against the Nuggets.

— Houston's PJ Tucker paid tribute by scrawling messages and the number 24 on his shoes.

— Emotional fans gathered outside the Staples Center, the Lakers' home stadium, to pay their respects to one of the franchise's greatest ever players.