RIETI, Italy (AP) — The first Italian basketball team that Kobe Bryant’s father played for retired the Lakers superstar’s jersey to the rafters in a pregame ceremony Wednesday.
“You began to play here and as an adult you made us dream. Our colors are with you in the sky,” read a huge banner in Italian that fans of NPC Rieti held up before the game against Scafati in Italy’s second division.
Then a gold Lakers’ jersey with Bryant’s No. 24 was lifted to the ceiling of the PalaSojourner arena as a recording of Bryant’s lineup introduction from his NBA playing days was played.
Rieti was where Joe Bryant, Kobe’s father, made his Italian basketball debut in 1984. Kobe was 6 at the time. Joe Bryant went on to play for three other teams in Italy and Kobe grew up in the country until moving back to Pennsylvania for high school.
Kobe Bryant died last month with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. He was 41.
At the start of the ceremony, the arena announcer read off the names of all nine victims of the crash. Afterward, two seats were draped with Kobe’s No. 24 and Gianna’s No. 2.
Before the ceremony, both teams warmed up wearing gold and purple T-shirts with Kobe Bryant’s Nos. 8 or 24 on them, with either “Bryant” or “Gigi” – Gianna’s nickname – printed on the back.
Fans then held up gold and purple cards featuring Nos. 8 and 24.
In the rafters, Bryant’s jersey was positioned next to the No. 18 jersey of former Rieti standout Willie Sojourner, the American who died in a car accident in the Italian town in 2005. He was 57.
The Rieti arena was named after Sojourner.
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