Bryant, long hailed as one of the greatest basketball players in the game’s history, died Sunday after a helicopter he and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were aboard crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
With the news of the crash making its rounds across social media, news outlets worked quickly to organize and push out content for special reports on the incident; however, in the rush, many mistakes were made - and not even the BBC was able to dodge a mishap.
Although the mainstream British news outlet followed along the typical structure of such reports, highlighting key moments of the player while rolling film, disaster struck the moment video from a recent Los Angeles Lakers game played. Rather than the coverage including footage of Bryant playing alongside Lakers teammates during his 20-year career, the face and athletic abilities of James, a fellow Lakers player, took center stage.
— Matthew Champion (@matthewchampion) January 26, 2020
“[Bryant’s] list of achievements is long: an All-Star, an NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist,” the video’s narrator says as video cuts from an image of Bryant and his daughter to clips of James.
“[Bryant] was unashamedly competitive, and he was deeply frustrated when his playing career was cut short by injuries.”
By the end of the news bulletin, the first apology was given by the BBC’s Reeta Chakrabarti, who admitted to the audience that the program “mistakenly showed pictures of another basketball player, LeBron James.”
A second apology was handed out some 15 minutes later by BBC show producer Paul Royall on Twitter. “We apologise for this human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme,” he wrote.
The BBC later indicated that the footage of James was pulled from recording of the Lakers game in which James surpassed Byrant and became the third-highest scorer in NBA history. Bryant retired from the Lakers in 2016 after bringing home five NBA championships, among a multitude of other accolades. James joined the Los Angeles team two years later.
Despite both BBC officials acknowledging the mishap, the outrage was swift online, with many netizens questioning how the mistake could’ve been committed, seeing as James’ last name was boldly displayed on the back of his jersey.
— Geoff Jein (@geoffjein) January 26, 2020
— Mark Austin (@markaustintv) January 26, 2020
— financepapi (@financepapi_) January 27, 2020
— Tobi Oredein (@IamTobiOredein) January 26, 2020
— Richard Lewis (@RLewisReports) January 26, 2020
British politician David Lammy, a member of parliament for Tottenham, told Newsweek that the BBC’s error would’ve likely never happened had the video been organized for a white athlete.
“Confusing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in this manner was deeply disrespectful,” he told the outlet. “They do not even look similar. It's like confusing David Beckham with Wayne Rooney.”
"We expect our public broadcaster to do better. If the BBC hired more black producers and editors, appalling mistakes like this simply would not happen," he added.
This is not the first time that such a mistake has taken place. In 2018, during a report on the death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin, Fox News used an image of fellow singer Patti LaBelle in their segment.