Over the course of Kobe Bryant’s professional basketball career — as well as in the years after it — his considerable ball-handling skills moved a lot of merchandise.
His Los Angeles Lakers jerseys were perennially popular (8, his first jersey number, was the league’s most popular in the 2002-2003 season; after he changed to No. 24 at the start of the 2006-2007 season, he topped it again in 2007), and his endorsement deal with Nike, which began in 2003, is still resonating at the register (new versions dropped late last year and again this month).
Therefore, it’s only fitting that professional athletes around the globe turned to both as a high-profile way to pay tribute to Bryant in the hours after learning that the Lakers legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine victims of a Calabasas helicopter crash Sunday morning.
The night before Bryant died, LeBron James, who often writes messages on his on-court kicks, gave the Black Mamba a sneaker-scrawled shout-out during the Lakers game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Also that night, James supplanted Bryant as the third-highest-scoring player in NBA history.
That made the messages cropping up on players’ kicks throughout the league during Sunday’s NBA games all the more poignant.
Before the Los Angeles Clippers game against the Orlando Magic, eagle-eyed fans might have been able to spot the white Nike sneakers of Montrezl Harrell, a fanatic collector of sneakers in his own right, inked with “GiGi Bryant RIP” and “Gone 2 Soon” on the left and “Never Forgotten” and the numeral 8 on the right.
Current New Orleans Pelicans player (and former Laker) Lonzo Ball paid similar tribute with “RIP Kobe” visible in gold ink on the outside heel of his right sneaker in Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics and “RIP Mamba” on the inside heel of the left. Teammate Josh Hart, another former Laker, had “Legends Are Forever” written on his own on-court shoes.
And, in Sunday’s Atlanta Hawks match-up against the Washington Wizards, the Hawks’ Trae Young honored Bryant twice over — once with a shoe-based tribute and again by swapping out his regular No. 11 jersey for No. 8 for the start of the game.
In addition in Sunday face-offs throughout the league, teams started games by purposely incurring 24-second shot-clock and 8-second back-court violations in honor of Bryant’s jersey numbers, 24 and 8.
The ripples of Bryant’s passing were felt — and seen — in another professional sport a half a world away, where tennis players competing in the Australian Open in Melbourne paid homage to the Mamba Mentality.
Australian tennis pro Nick Kyrgios arrived for his Monday match against Rafael Nadal sporting Bryant’s No. 8 jersey, and when Americans Coco Gauff and Caty McNally faced off against Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara in the fourth round of the women’s doubles, they did so in sneakers marked with messages honoring Bryant (and, according to published reports, dedicated their win to him).
At a Real Madrid soccer club practice, which started with a minute of silence in honor of Bryant, team captain Sergio Ramos wore a less frequently seen Kobe jersey — the red, white and blue No. 10, which Bryant wore as part of the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Although Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, which took place at Staples Center, unspooled barely seven hours after the crash, arrivals on the red carpet — and performers on the stage inside — managed to pay their high-profile respects to Bryant in a variety of creative ways.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas had the number 24 painted on one of her fingernails (which also happened to put her squarely on trend with the night’s fistful of detailed nail art), while her husband, Nick Jonas, and his brothers accessorized their own ensembles with purple ribbons (purple and gold being the Lakers team colors) in Bryant’s honor.
Kobe jerseys also made hastily arranged cameos onstage as well, most notably during Lil Nas X’s performance in which Bryant’s gold No. 24 jersey could be seen draped over a chair, while a No. 24 jersey (in what used to be known as the “Sunday white” colorway) was held aloft in the background of a surprise Aerosmith and Run D.M.C. performance.
How the Los Angeles Lakers themselves will honor the legacy of the late Laker-for-life — on their uniforms, shoes or otherwise — when the team returns to Staples Center remains to be seen.
The purple and gold were supposed to hit the hardwood in downtown L.A. on Tuesday night — facing off against the Clippers — but on Monday, came word that the NBA had postponed the game “out of respect for the Lakers organization, which is deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday.”
Whatever form the tribute takes, when the Lakers find themselves back on the court, we expect it to be every bit as heart-wrenching as the last two days have been.