ROME (AP) — In the country where he grew up, Kobe Bryant will be mourned for an entire week.
The Italian basketball federation said Monday it has ordered a minute’s silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.”
“It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the federation said. “Kobe was and will always be linked to our country.”
Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father, Joe Bryant, played for several teams in the country. He returned to Pennsylvania for high school.
Kobe Bryant spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country.
That dream almost came true when Bryant nearly joined Virtus Bologna in 2011 during an NBA lockout, only for the deal to fall apart.
“We’ve lost a friend,” read a front-page headline in the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sports newspaper.
Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. He was 41.
Bryant in Rome in 2011.
“All of the NBA players are important, because they’re legends, but he’s particularly important to us because he knew Italy so well, having lived in several cities here,” Italian federation president Giovanni Petrucci told The Associated Press late Sunday night.
“He had a lot of Italian qualities,” Petrucci added. “He spoke Italian very well. He even knew the local slang.”
Pistoia, one of the teams that Joe Bryant played for, tweeted a message with a picture of Kobe Bryant during a recent trip to the Tuscan town.
“We saw him play at the PalaCarrara during halftime of his father Joe’s games,” Pistoia said. “He had a strong bond with the city of Pistoia and it was just a few years ago that he came to pay us a visit. May the earth rest lightly on you #Kobe.”
Italian coach Ettore Messina worked with Bryant as an assistant for the Lakers.
“He was a supernatural,” Messina told the AP late Sunday while traveling with his current club, Olimpia Milano.
“To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA,” Messina said. “He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world. He also did that with me when I arrived at the Lakers and I’m still very grateful to him for that. It’s very sad that his family has been devastated like this.”
Within hours of his death, Bryant’s death became one of the most-searched topics on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, where he had nine million followers, compared with 15 million worldwide on Twitter. The pinned post on his Weibo account was a short video uploaded on Friday of Bryant wishing his “dear friends in China” a happy Lunar New Year and thanking them for their support for the past year. Underneath that post, tens of thousands of fans have left tributes and messages of mourning.
A whole generation of Chinese basketball fans grew up watching Bryant, as he made his way through the league and into the annals of sporting greats. Along with Michael Jordan, he was one of the first real NBA superstars to win a following in China, which embraced the American sport as the country opened up to the world.He enjoyed unparallelled popularity as an icon of their youth, when basketball surged in popularity in China.
Even China’s state media posted tributes online, praising his fearless fighting spirit and the role he played in introducing basketball to a generation of Chinese people.”From primary school to university, he accompanied the youth of countless people, and evoked the love for basketball among many young Chinese people,” read a Weibo post by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party.